Family Software

 DMCA Leads to Arrest of a Russian in USA 

 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 

Full Details of the Case are available here.

Comments and Suggestions can be sent to  Naavi

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