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DMCA in the news: Russian programmer arrested, nerds protest for his release

By Mike Orr

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has claimed its first prisoner. Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested by the FBI July 16 after giving a talk at DEF CON in Las Vegas, Nevada, on the inadequate security of Adobe's eBook format. But he was arrested not because of the talk, but because his company ElcomSoft sold (and he worked on) a product that converted said eBook format to ordinary PDF. This violates the DMCA's circumvention provision, which prohibits circumventing any encryption that serves as a form of copy protection. Never mind that the program was built and sold in Russia, which has no such law. (Neither do Canada or Europe, at least not yet.) Never mind that there are legitimate uses for ElcomSoft's product, such as exercising your Fair Use rights or having a speech synthesizer read you the book if you are blind.

Protests erupted a week later in several US cities, asking for the release of Dmitry, boycotting Adobe, and/or arguing for the repeal of the DMCA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) talked with Adobe and got them to withdraw their complaint against Dmitry and ask for his release. However, Dmitry is still in an Oklahoma jail without bail, and his fate rests with the US justice department and a court trial. A second route of protests took place a week later (July 30) to convince the Justice Department to release Dmitry and to convince Congress to repeal the DMCA. There are other problems with the DMCA too. (Remember DeCSS? What about your previous right to reverse engineer?)

The DMCA is an important issue for all Americans, even those who aren't engineers or are computer novices, because the laws are changing much faster than people realize, and you may find that rights you've always had no longer exist, and that your right to read what you want when you want (without some company keeping track of you)--and to criticize what you read--may be gone.

It's also an important issue to those outside the US. Canada is already debating a similar law. And Europeans must also be wary, lest corporate lobbyists sneak it past your parliaments when you're not watching. Already, American engineers have started sending their resumes to Canada and Europe, in case their jobs get declared illegal over here.

So much has been written about Sklyarov and the DMCA that I won't retell it all but just point to some existing links.

Mike Orr

Mike ("Iron") is the Editor of Linux Gazette. You can read what he has to say in the Back Page column in this issue. He has been a Linux enthusiast since 1991 and a Debian user since 1995. He is SSC's web technical coordinator, which means he gets to write a lot of Python scripts. Non-computer interests include Ska/Oi! music and the international language Esperanto. The nickname Iron was given to him in college--short for Iron Orr, hahaha.

Copyright © 2001, Mike Orr.
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Published in Issue 69 of Linux Gazette, August 2001

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