The FBI arrested Russian citizen Dmitry Sklyarov in Las Vegas, Nevada, yesterday on charges of distributing a product designed to circumvent copyright protection measures. Sklyarov, who was in Las Vegas to deliver a lecture on electronic book security, allegedly authored a program which permits editing, copying, and printing of electronic books by unlocking a proprietary Adobe electronic book format.
Charged in one of the first United States criminal prosecutions under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), Sklyarov is currently in custody in Las Vegas pending transfer to the Northern California US Federal District Court.
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."
Alexander Katalov, President and Owner of Elcomsoft, expressed anger and disappointment over Sklyarov's arrest: "Dimitry is only one of the programmers who worked on this program, so I don't understand why it is his sole responsibility. In Russia, we have no law like the DMCA. In fact, distributing Adobe's eBook software is illegal in Russia, since Russian law requires that the software permit the purchaser to make at least one legal copy."