London protesters slam US copyright laws

Activists at a gathering outside the US Embassy in London this afternoon call for the release of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

Protesters gathered outside the US Embassy in London this afternoon to call for the immediate release of Dmitry Sklyarov, the Russian programmer who was arrested by the FBI for creating software that circumvented the copyright protection mechanism in Adobe's eBook reader.

Thirty-three activists arrived an hour late in Grosvenor Square, at 2pm, laden with banners such as "Visit the USA, go to jail". The "Free Dmitri" protest was organised by Anton Chterenlikht to support global protests for the Russian computer programmer taking place in 25 cities around the world over the next few weeks.

Sklyarov was arrested two weeks ago by the FBI, charged with trafficking in a copyright circumvention mechanism, despite the fact that the software that he helped to write was sold by his employer, and not by him directly. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) that Sklyarov is alleged to have broken makes activities considered entirely lawful in most other nations illegal in the US. His supporters stress that he has not broken any laws while on US soil, and note that Sklyarov's work was conducted in Russia -- a long way from US territories.

"The arrest will have a much bigger impact than the protests," said Julian Midgley, joint coordinator of the London protest. "Someone has been arrested under a law that makes it legal to publish information about nuclear weapons, but not about security holes in software."

Sklyarov is an employee of ElcomSoft, 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.

"The programme was primarily designed to help legitimate users exercise their right to free dealing," said Chterenlikht. ElcomSoft's programme makes it possible for legitimate users to make fair use of eBooks, and could make it possible for visually impaired users to use them with Braille terminals and text-to-speech software.

The Russian father of two is accused of trafficking, but there is no evidence to prove that he personally sold the software. "There was no commercial gain for him -- he was merely an employer, who was sent to the conference by his company," said Chterenlikht.

Sklyarov has been held in custody for 16 days without being moved. "The police are completely confused and embarrassed now -- there is speculation that they may try to create new charges," said Chterenlikht. Adobe issued a joint statement with the Electronic Frontier Foundation last week calling for Sklyarov's release, but the US Department of Justice intends to continue with the trial.

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