Protest to free jailed Russian

August 3, 2001

US academics are campaigning for the release of Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian postgraduate student who has been arrested and held in custody in the United States for violating security provisions in Adobe e-Book software.

Rallies are being planned in more than 25 cities worldwide following a protest outside San Francisco's federal courthouse this week.

The 26-year-old student at Bauman Moscow State Technical University also works for ElcomSoft, a Moscow firm whose software translated encrypted Adobe e-Book Reader texts to files that can be freely distributed.

Adobe spoke to Federal Bureau of Investigation officers who arrested Mr Sklyarov on July 17 after he gave a talk about the copyright-breaking software at a DefCon hackers' conference in Las Vegas.

Since Mr Sklyarov was charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a host of individuals and organisations are demanding his release - including Adobe. The company changed its stance after protests outside its San Jose headquarters and in 19 other US cities.

Colleen Pouliot, Adobe senior vice-president, said pursuing the case was "not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved, or the industry".

The Electronic Frontier Federation, which represents Mr Sklyarov, said he had not infringed copyright, but had built a tool that allowed e-Book users to translate files into Adobe's portable document format.

An EFF spokesperson said: "Mr Sklyarov is not being prosecuted for using the tool himself. He has entered the strange twilight zone of the DMCA, where using a tool is legal, but building it is a crime."

The EFF met with prosecutors last week in a bid to win freedom for Mr Sklyarov. But, representatives said the US Attorney's office gave no indication that it would drop the prosecution. The EFF is challenging the constitutionality of the DMCA in a lawsuit.

The case has re-ignited debate over the much criticised DMCA. Its most controversial section makes it illegal to circumvent technology that protects copyrights, even for research purposes.

Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat representative, said Mr Sklyarov's arrest was "a travesty". "I urge his immediate release." He is proposing legislation to alter the act and make it illegal only if the software or perpetrator specifically aimed to violate copyright.

David Flint, of Scottish law firm Macroberts, said while copyright infringement could be a criminal offence in the United Kingdom, he was not aware of any similar cases here and doubted an arrest like Mr Sklyarov's would ever be made.

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