- Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer at the Moscow firm ElcomSoft, was arrested by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the Def Con conference this week.
He was arrested for violating the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by distributing a software tool designed to circumvent copyright protections built into Adobe Systems' eBooks.
Sklyarov is the author of a program called Advanced eBook Processor, which ElcomSoft sells, that allows users to remove the copyright protections built into Adobe eBooks, enabling the e-books to be opened in the less secure Adobe PDF (portable document format), rather than in the eBook Reader application.
The eBook Reader application restricts the way a purchaser of an eBook can use the file -- including restricting reselling, copying, backing up and printing -- rights traditionally given to the purchaser of items like books under the First Sale and Fair Use legal doctrines. By changing the file to a PDF, Advanced eBook Processor allows users to do all of these things to the original eBook.
Sklyarov gave a presentation on the last day of the Def Con conference entitled "eBook Security: Theory and Practice." That he was arrested at a conference well-populated by law enforcement officials, and one that is also known for candid information disclosure, surprised many attendees and observers.
Sklyarov appeared in a Las Vegas court on Monday, where he was detained without bail and ordered transferred to the Northern District of California, according to a statement from the FBI. Sklyarov was ordered sent to the Northern District of California because that is where Adobe is located, and the FBI made its arrest after receiving a complaint from the company. The company initially met with the FBI in late June to inform the FBI of its concerns and a criminal complaint was sworn out by an FBI agent about a week later, one week before Def Con began.
In one of the first criminal prosecutions of its kind, Sklyarov is being prosecuted under the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a crime to traffic in tools -- in this case the Advanced eBook Processor -- designed primarily to circumvent copyright control measures. If convicted, Sklyarov could face as many as five years in prison and up to a $US500,000 fine.
The case is significant not only because it provides a potential test case for the DMCA, but also because it involves the first prosecution of an individual under the DMCA, says Jennifer Granick, clinical director of the Stanford University Center for Internet and Society, who has been critical of the legislation.
"This provision of the law (the anti-trafficking provision of the DMCA) is different from all other kinds of law we've had before. This isn't about copyright infringement," she says. Rather, it renders programs that can have other, legitimate purposes illegal, she says.
The law in effect narrows the scope of how Fair Use and First Sale are defined, and may have other negative effects as well, according to Granick.
"I'm afraid we're going to see more researchers afraid to come to the US" for fear of prosecution under the DMCA, she says. "What this guy did was completely legal where he was (in Russia)."
Besides being new, the statute is a complex one and it's possible Sklyarov did not realise that he may have acted in violation of US law, she says.
"I'm not sure there's a way this law could be written to avoid this problem," she says.