Protests demanding the release of the Russian programmer Dmitri Sklyarov are scheduled to take place this week outside the American Embassy in London, but organisers of the event are expecting a poor turnout.
"Free Dmitri" protests are planned to take place in 25 cities around the world over the next few weeks, but little support is emerging for the London demonstration.
Anton Chterenlikht, the organiser of the London event, said that so far only ten people are confirmed to attend, but added that he hoped the number to double by the end of the week. The research assistant at Sheffield University's Mechanical Engineering Department had originally planned to hold the demonstration on Saturday, but rescheduled to Friday at 1pm when he discovered that the American Embassy is closed at the weekend.
"It's difficult to get people interested in Britain -- they aren't Russian, and when they hear the term "hacker" they immediately draw a stereotype image in their head, and don't bother to hear the whole story," said Chterenlikht.
The Russian encryption expert was arrested in Las Vegas by the FBI two weeks ago, for allegedly publishing software that cracks a variety of methods used to secure e-books and Adobe's PDF format. Sklyarov, who remains in custody, stands accused of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a piece of legislation that makes it illegal to circumvent copy protection mechanisms.
Sklyarov is an employee of Elcom, a Moscow-based company and the publisher of the Advanced eBook Processor, a program that cracks the encryption protection on Adobe's eBook format, converting it to Adobe PDF format. A day before his arrest, Sklyarov had outlined the problems plaguing e-book formats and Adobe's PDF format at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas. His supporters stress that he has not broken any laws while on US soil, and note that Sklyarov's work at Elcom was conducted in Russia -- a long way from US territories.
Protests have been organised to pressurise the US Attorney's Office into dropping the charges that Sklyarov currently faces. "It is completely ridiculous -- there is no evidence to prosecute as Adobe has withdrawn its complaint and has asked the prosecution to release Dmitri," argued Chterenlikht.
Alan Cox, lead programmer for Linux, is now refusing to attend programming conferences in America, and is urging encryption experts to follow his lead. "There is a real threat of non-US computer scientists being prosecuted under this law -- it is being used to stop programmers from speaking about their findings," said Chterenlikht.
But there are plans afoot to impose similar penalties on computer programmers under the EU copyright directive, due to be enforced later this year. Article 6 of the directive includes a technical protection measure, which will enforce DVD region locks and prevent the publication of critical papers on computer programmes or e-books.
"We would like to ensure that the directive is suitable toned down before it is enacted," said Julian Midgley, joint coordinator of the London protest.
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