In a case of international ramifications, the FBI arrested Russian
citizen Dmitry Sklyarov who was in Las Vegas to deliver a lecture on electronic
book security, on July 16, 2001, on charges of distributing a product designed
to circumvent copyright protection measures.
The case involves Advanced eBook Processor (AEBPR), a software
alleged to have authored by Mr Sklyarov for his Russian Employer
Elcomsoft.. According to the company, the software permits eBook owners
to translate from Adobe's secure eBook format into the more common Portable
Document Format (PDF). Elcomsoft however 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.
The issue has thrown some interesting questions.
Firstly, it is stated that the disputed action is not a crime
in Russia. This is therefore a question of Cross Border recognition
of Crimes, the subject matter of the Hague convention.
Secondly the software is developed in the name of a Company and the
employee's responsibility is only "Vicarious".
Thirdly the software can be used for multiple uses including
as a convenient tool for legitimate fair use. Should the possibility of
its use in infringement be sufficient cause to make it illegal?
It is unfortunate that DMCA is a valid law and contains provisions
that can be applied for any technological device which can be used
for Copyright infringement.
This principle has already been applied in the Napster case and if it
gets further consolidated into taking personal punitive action against
a visiting foreigner, then USA will be setting dangerous precedents in
enforcement of international justice.
The precedent can also be applied tomorrow to the technology of Internet
itself, because this is the basic technology that helps "Downloading" of
software such as "Advanced e-Book Processors". If the processor is illegal,
the technology that distributes the same is also illegal.
It may be difficult to trace the owner of the Internet technology, but
if in the case of the AEBPR, an employee can be arrested for the alleged
violation of DMCA by the Company, any employee of the US Defense department
who worked in the ARPANET project and its further development can be arrested
by any foreign Government for creating a technology that assists in "Hate
Speech", "Anti National Activities" etc besides Copyright violations.
I agree that this looks absurd.
Behind the apparent absurdity of such a possibility lies the truth that
"DMCA" in its current form is an obnoxious law fit to be scrapped forthwith.
It is a law framed only to protect the mighty vested interests in the US
entertainment industry and will stifle the Internet system until this community
tool is reduced to a commercial tool of the industry.
If DMCA is going to be applied to foreigners visiting USA, many have
to avoid visiting USA just as they would avoid visiting Afghanistan or
Libya. For the same reason the issue is not only the concern of the free
speech organisations in USA, but also of the entire world.
July 19, 2001
Details of the Case are available here.
Comments and Suggestions can be sent