Russian arrested for alleged DMCA violations

Turns out the Def Con hacker convention wasn't all fun and games; it also produced one high-profile arrest. Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer at the Moscow firm ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., was arrested by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Monday for violating the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by distributing a software tool designed to circumvent copyright protections built into Adobe Systems Inc.'s eBooks.

Sklyarov is the author of a program called Advanced eBook Processor, which ElcomSoft sells, that allows users to remove the copyright protections built into Adobe eBooks, enabling the e-books to be opened in the less secure Adobe PDF (portable document format), rather than in the eBook Reader application.

The eBook Reader application restricts the way a purchaser of an eBook can use the file -- including restricting reselling, copying, backing up and printing -- rights traditionally given to the purchaser of items like books under the First Sale and Fair Use legal doctrines. By changing the file to a PDF, Advanced eBook Processor allows users to do all of these things to the original eBook.

Sklyarov appeared in a Las Vegas court on Monday, where he was detained without bail and ordered transferred to the Northern District of California, according to a statement from the FBI. Sklyarov was ordered sent to the Northern District of California because that is where Adobe is located, and the FBI made its arrest after receiving a complaint from the company. The company initially met with the FBI in late June to inform the FBI of its concerns and a criminal complaint was sworn out by an FBI agent about a week later, one week before Def Con began.

In one of the first criminal prosecutions of its kind, Sklyarov is being prosecuted under the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a crime to traffic in tools -- in this case the Advanced eBook Processor -- designed primarily to circumvent copyright control measures. If convicted, Sklyarov could face as many as five years in prison and up to a US$500,000 fine.

Sklyarov gave a presentation on the last day of the Def Con conference entitled "eBook Security: Theory and Practice." That he was arrested at a conference well-populated by law enforcement officials, and one that is also known for candid information disclosure, surprised many attendees and observers.

The case is significant not only because it provides a potential test case for the DMCA, but also because it involves the first prosecution of an individual under the DMCA, said Jennifer Granick, clinical director of the Stanford University Center for Internet and Society, who has been critical of the legislation.

"This provision of the law (the anti-trafficking provision of the DMCA) is different from all other kinds of law we've had before. This isn't about copyright infringement," she said. Rather, it renders programs that can have other, legitimate purposes illegal, she said.

The law in effect narrows the scope of how Fair Use and First Sale are defined, and may have other negative effects as well, according to Granick.

"I'm afraid we're going to see more researchers afraid to come to the U.S." for fear of prosecution under the DMCA, she said. "What this guy did was completely legal where he was (in Russia)."

Besides being new, the statute is a complex one and it's possible Sklyarov did not realize that he may have acted in violation of U.S. law, she said.

"I'm not sure there's a way this law could be written to avoid this problem," she said.

The DMCA has been at the heart of a number of high-profile and polarizing cases over the last year or two, including the DeCSS (De Contents Scramble System) case and a suit against SDMI (the Secure Digital Music Initiative).

The DeCSS case, in which programmers created a tool that could decode DVDs (digital versatile discs) by removing the CSS (Contents Scramble System), is under appeal and currently winding its way through the courts. The initial ruling in the case, which upheld the DMCA and barred even linking to Web sites that contain DeCSS or other circumvention devices, was highly controversial in parts of the Internet and open source software communities In a more recent case involving a cryptography challenge issued by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a multi-industry consortium of companies trying to create a standard for secure digital music, Princeton University professor Edward Felten was threatened with a DMCA lawsuit by SDMI if he published a paper on his findings regarding how to break SDMI's proposed watermarking technology Though Felten did not present the paper, he is now suing both SDMI and the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (a conglomeration of record companies and the force behind SDMI) to allow publication of his paper

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sam Costello

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?