Software Builder Wrongfully Arrested
Copyright Laws Abused for Private Monopoly Privilege
You probably have heard of the recent arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov. Now for some background, we present some notes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The case involves Advanced eBook Processor (AEBPR), software developed by Sklyarov's Russian employer Elcomsoft. According to the company's website, the software permits eBook owners to translate from Adobe's secure eBook format into the more common Portable Document Format (PDF). The company maintains that the software only works on legitimately purchased eBooks.
Adobe's eBook format restricts the manner in which a legitimate eBook buyer may read, print, back up, and store electronic books. The Advanced eBook Processor appears to remove these usage restrictions, permitting an eBook consumer to enjoy the ability to move the electronic book between computers, make backup copies, and print. Many of these personal, non-commercial activities may constitute fair use under U.S. copyright law. Of course, the Advanced eBook Processor software may also make it easier to infringe copyrights, since eBooks, once translated into open formats like PDF, may be distributed in illegitimate ways.
Robin Gross, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), explained, "The U.S. government for the first time is prosecuting a programmer for building a tool that may be used for many purposes, including those that legitimate purchasers need in order to exercise their fair use rights."
Jennifer Granick, Clinical Director at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, commented that "the DMCA says that companies can use technology to take away fair use, but programmers can't use technology to take fair use back. Now the government is spending taxpayer money putting people from other countries in jail to protect multinational corporate profits at the expense of free speech."
Lest anyone be confused, this case is not about copyright infringement. Mr. Sklyarov is not accused of infringing anyone's copyrights. He is accused of building the Advanced eBook Processor, a tool that allows the legitimate purchaser of an e-book to translate it from one digital format into another (from Adobe's eBook format into Adobe's Portable Document Format). Mr. Sklyarov is not being prosecuted for using the tool himself -- in fact, such a prosecution would be impossible, since using such a tool (as distinguished from building or distributing one) breaks no law. Mr. Sklyarov has entered the strange Twilight Zone of the DMCA, where buying a tool is legal, owning a tool is legal, using a tool is legal, but building it is a crime.
Mr. Sklyarov is a Russian national who came to the United States to deliver an academic presentation on his technological innovations. His arrest and subsequent detention without bail are shameful and opportunistic actions against an individual who was here simply to share his knowledge and technical expertise with American scientists.
Dmitry Sklyarov is not accused of any copyright infringement of any sort. He is a computer programmer. He stands accused of writing software that enables purchasers of electronic books to exercise their lawful fair use rights when viewing their eBooks.
Courts have determined time and time again that computer code is creative expression worthy of First Amendment protection. Mr. Sklyarov is currently being held captive for the content of his ideas that demonstrate the flaws in Adobe's software and because he expressed them in the most precise scientific language available to his profession, computer code. Mr. Sklyarov's right to free expression under the U.S. Constitution and international treaty obligations must be respected.
The inability of programmers to distribute fair use tools infringes on the free speech rights of all of citizens who legitimately need them. Fair use is an integral part of the bargain of rights struck between the public and authors under U.S. copyright law. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that fair use provides the necessary breathing room to prevent a conflict between copyright and the guarantees of freedom of expression under the First Amendment.
Although the Constitution mandates that copyrighted works pass into the public domain, the DMCA has outlawed all tools necessary to gain access to the works, even after those works rightfully belong to the public. Technology permits publishers to restrict access to and control the use of copyrighted works in ways that dangerously exceed the bounds of copyright, encroaching upon the public's rights to use and access knowledge.
When the DMCA was passing through Congress in 1998, the copyright industry promised it was needed as a shield for protection. Now as law, it is actually used as a powerful sword to squelch speech and competition and kill fair use.
For a copy of the federal complaint against Sklyarov see: http://www.eff.org/IP/DMCA/US_v_Sklyarov/20010707_complaint.html
Two protest sites that are organizing rallies:
What's your opinion? Should photocopy machine makers, and farmers, and florists, be put in jail too? After all, their products could be used illegally. Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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