[free-sklyarov] Libertarian Party/SF article

Declan McCullagh declan at well.com
Tue Aug 7 04:52:31 PDT 2001

Thanks. Anyone know if the Democratic and Republican parties, or any
of their local chapters, have taken similar "Free Dmitry" stances?


On Mon, Aug 06, 2001 at 09:44:18PM -0700, Christopher R. Maden wrote:
> The following article appeared in the August issue of _Golden Gate 
> Libertarian_, the newsletter of the Libertarian Party of San Francisco.  It 
> should be appearing on-line at lpsf.org in the next week.
> -crism
> Dmitry Sklyarov and the DMCA
> As you may have read in the news over the last few weeks, a Russian 
> programmer named Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested in Las Vegas by the FBI 
> following the DefCon computer security conference.  He was charged with 
> trafficking in a copyright protection circumvention device, which is a 
> criminal infraction under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
> The DMCA, as it is known, is a nasty little bit of legislation.  Most 
> notably, it outlaws the publication of information on how to circumvent 
> copy-protection schemes; Jon Johanssen, a teenager in Norway, was charged 
> for figuring out how simple the protection on DVD movies is.  Users of the 
> free Linux operating system could not play DVDs on their own computers 
> because no authorized company had written a "driver" for them - with 
> Johanssen's scheme, they could.  The Motion Picture Association of America 
> not only dealt harshly with Johanssen, but sued the hacker magazine _2600_ 
> for even linking to Johanssen's code from their Web site.  Princeton 
> University professor Edward Felten was also threatened with a lawsuit if he 
> presented his investigation into a file protection scheme, proposed by the 
> music industry, at a conference.
> The DMCA does have "fair use" provisions, but they are much narrower than 
> the copyright law that preceded DMCA's passage.  The fair use doctrine was 
> developed to balance free speech rights against copyrights - e.g., 
> satirical uses or parodies of copyrighted work, or short excerpts in a 
> critical review are permitted under fair use.  Under the DMCA, a publisher 
> can take those rights away from a user via technology, and it becomes 
> illegal to develop a tool to restore those rights to the information's 
> consumer.
> As a Ph.D. candidate at a Moscow state university, Sklyarov (pronounced 
> skul-YAHR-off) investigated the security of Adobe Systems' "Acrobat eBook 
> Reader" software.  This software enables publishers to deliver "ebooks" 
> that are locked to one specific computer - the end-user can not copy the 
> book to another computer, nor print it or have the text read aloud by the 
> computer if the publisher has not specifically enabled those features.  (In 
> other words, blind customers may not be able to legally use a product they 
> purchase.)  Adobe's product has not been doing very well; the on-line 
> customer discussion fora are filled with comments about the inadequacy of 
> the product (many using a four-letter verb that starts with "s").
> In the course of his investigations, Sklyarov found that Adobe's security 
> was very poor, and that it was a simple matter to intercept the unprotected 
> book when the purchaser entered the enabling password.  He developed a 
> program that exploited this shortcoming.  This enables a user who has 
> legitimately purchased a book to create an unlocked copy, which they can 
> then print, copy to another computer, or even publish across the Internet 
> to thousands of other readers.
> Sklyarov's employer, a Russian company called ElcomSoft, specializes in 
> password-recovery tools.  For instance, if you lock an Excel spreadsheet, 
> but then forget the password (or worse, your accountant who had the 
> password quits), you can buy a tool from ElcomSoft to recover the 
> data.  The FBI is a significant customer of these tools, which have obvious 
> law enforcement applications.  ElcomSoft dubbed Sklyarov's tool the 
> "Advanced eBook Processor", or "AEBPR", and put it up for sale, using a 
> US-based credit card processing Web site.
> On the June 25, Adobe filed a cease-and-desist notice with ElcomSoft, 
> giving them five days to pull the program from sale.  On June 26, Adobe 
> filed a criminal complaint with the US Attorney against Dmitry Sklyarov, as 
> the author of the program.  Adobe knew that Sklyarov would be coming to the 
> United States to speak at DefCon, and advised the FBI of this fact.  He was 
> arrested in due course on July 16.
> This outraged the electronic community, for a variety of reasons.  The 
> Electronic Frontier Foundation, located here in San Francisco, got 
> involved, and activists organized a boycott of Adobe products and 
> demonstrations against Sklyarov's arrest around the world.  On Monday, July 
> 23, demonstrators rallied in Boston, St. Paul, Seattle, Salt Lake City, 
> Moscow, New York, and most significantly, outside Adobe's headquarters in 
> San José while the EFF met with Adobe's leadership inside.  The end result 
> of the pressure from the demonstrators, the boycott, and press coverage, 
> together with the EFF's negotiations, was that Adobe dropped the criminal 
> complaint and called for Sklyarov's release in a joint press release with 
> the EFF.
> Unfortunately, this is a criminal case, and it remains up to the Department 
> of Justice to actually free Sklyarov.  Another protest was held on Monday, 
> July 30, at the San Francisco at the Federal Building as well as in several 
> other cities around the nation.  A protest at the US Embassy in London got 
> significant media attention on Friday, August 3.  As I write this, we are 
> preparing for a rally at Sklyarov's bail hearing in San Jose for Monday, 
> August 6.
> There are several important reasons to set him free:
> 1) He is charged with trafficking in forbidden technology.  He did not sell 
> the program; his employer did.  Although three ElcomSoft employees were at 
> the conference, including the president, it was Sklyarov who was 
> arrested.  It seems obvious that an example is being made of him.
> 2) The DMCA specifically allows for narrow fair use exemptions from the 
> civil and criminal violations it defines.  AEBPR will only unlock a book 
> legitimately purchased by the user; it can not be used to steal others' 
> books.  It is thus probable that the program does not even violate the law.
> 3) The DMCA is a very bad law.  It has a demonstrably chilling effect on 
> speech; one colleague, while a co-worker of mine at an ebook company, did 
> the same research as Sklyarov.  He did not publish his work, though, and is 
> now much more careful about what he publishes.  Foreign scientists are 
> beginning a boycott of US conferences for fear of prosecution and also in 
> solidarity with Sklyarov and Johanssen.  It also punishes research, rather 
> than copyright violation; since AEBPR only unlocks a user's legitimately 
> purchased copy, it is the user who must make the decision to pirate the 
> unlocked copy.  AEBPR is a tool with legitimate and illegal uses, like a 
> lockpick, a crowbar, a car, and a gun.  Outlawing the tool does not help.
> However, there are other DMCA test cases, civil ones, working through the 
> court system, and it is not important to keep Sklyarov as a hostage for a 
> test case.  Let him go.
> This is an important Libertarian issue as well, for a few reasons.
> 1) The rights violations mentioned above - Sklyarov's right to do research, 
> publish his findings, and create tools with legitimate uses, and the 
> public's right to fair use of information they purchase.
> 2) It is an excellent example of the dangers of big government.  Adobe, 
> faced with an inferior product and public criticism of their security, used 
> the government to bully its critics by proxy, having one of them 
> arrested.  The use of criminal charges as a substitute for competition in 
> the marketplace is unacceptable.  A small government is not a useful tool 
> for a corporation, and would thus avoid similar abuses.
> 3) The community response, the boycott, and Adobe's subsequent relenting 
> and call for Sklyarov's release are a case study in how the free market can 
> be used as a tool to effect social change without regulation.
> Interested Libertarians are encouraged to join the protests and voice our 
> support for free speech and our opposition to abusive laws and their 
> enforcement.  Please see freesklyarov.org for up-to-date information, or 
> contact the author of this article directly at crism at maden.org or 504-8677.
> The EFF's Web site is eff.org, and it includes information about Sklyarov, 
> Johanssen, Felten, and the DMCA.
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