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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
FBI arrests alleged copyright cracker
Las Vegas neon by night BBC
The DefCon convention was held in Las Vegas
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

A Russian computer programmer has been arrested for allegedly flouting a controversial US copyright law.

Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested by the FBI shortly after giving a presentation to the DefCon 9 conference on the shortcomings of many popular encryption systems.

The arrest followed complaints by Adobe that a program Mr Sklyarov created removes copy controls on encrypted electronic books.

The arrest has sparked protests with some calling for a boycott of Adobe, and a repeal of the law he has been charged with breaking.

Encryption claims

On Monday, FBI agents arrested Dmitry Sklyarov in his room at the Alexis Park Hotel in Las Vegas, shortly before he was due to check out and return to Russia.

The programmer was in America to speak at the DefCon 9 hacker conference being held in the same hotel. Earlier in the day, he had given a talk entitled "eBooks security - theory and practice" which looked at the encryption and copy protection systems used to protect electronic books.

Mr Sklyarov is one of the creators of the Advanced eBook Processor software which, eBook creator Adobe alleges, strips the copy protection system off digital books encrypted with this software.

In its defence Elcomsoft said the eBook Processor only allowed people to decrypt books they had already bought and wanted to transfer to devices other than a PC.

Mr Sklyarov has been charged with breaking the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a crime for anyone to circulate "any technology, product, service, device, component or part" that circumvents copy protection systems.

Copyright complaints

The arrest is merely the latest skirmish in a bitter battle between Adobe and Elcomsoft - the software firm that employs Mr Sklyarov.

In June, Adobe wrote to Elcomsoft demanding that it stop selling the e-book decoder and accusing it of "unauthorised activity relating to copyrighted materials".

It has also attempted to stop distribution of the eBook Processor by complaining to the net service provider hosting the Elcomsoft pages.

According to documents released by the FBI, it only arrested Mr Sklyarov after prompting by Adobe.

The arrest has sparked a wave of protest on the net. Pro-Sklyarov webpages have sprung up, a mailing list to keep people up to date with the case has been created and donations are being sought for a defence fund.

DVD case

Many of those outraged by Sklyarov's arrest are calling for action against the DMCA, saying that it is too broad to be effective and tramples on freedom of speech. Some have started a Boycott Adobe campaign to protest against, in their eyes, its heavy-handed action.

The arrest and charging of Mr Sklyarov is the first time that a criminal case has been mounted under the DMCA. If found guilty, Mr Sklyarov could be sentenced to serve up to five years in jail and be fined of up to $500,000 (£353,282).

He is currently being held without bail until he is extradited to California where charges have been filed against him. A hearing will be held in the next fortnight.

In January last year, eight film studios took the hacker magazine 2600 to court in a civil case alleging that it was distributing materials that could help people bypass copy protection systems on DVDs.

Last month, the cyber liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation started legal action to try to have the DMCA ruled unconstitutional.

See also:

14 Jul 01 | Americas
Hacking Las Vegas
03 May 01 | Sci/Tech
US facing Chinese cyber blitz
07 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Legal challenge to US piracy law
25 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Security through censorship
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