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BusinessWeek: Why the E-Free-Speech Debate Matters

Sep 17, 2001, 21:15 (4 Talkback[s])

[ Thanks to Larry for this link. ]

"When it comes to aiming a blow at a contentious copyright protection law, using a Russian hacker as your hammer doesn't seem like the best way to go about it. But opponents of the law that programmer Dmitry Sklyarov allegedly violated, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, see his very public arrest in July as a good opportunity to bring attention to the DMCA's deficiencies. And while the issue is extremely complex and his case seemingly cut and dry, these opponents from library, programmer, and civil-liberties groups, have good reason to keep the case in the public eye.

At first glance, the facts don't seem very contentious. Sklyarov, a Moscow graduate student, and ElcomSoft, the company he works for, were charged on Aug. 28 for trafficking and conspiring to traffic in technology that circumvents copyright-control technologies in Adobe's eBook reader, a device for reading digital texts (see BW Online, 7/25/01, "Don't Judge an eBook Case By Its Coverage" ). The defendants acknowledge that Sklyarov wrote a program that allows people to use eBook to copy and print text, breaking the copyright protections that Adobe designed into the software. ElcomSoft also sold that program over the Net. The defendants argue that the practice is legal in Russia, but that's not really the heart of the debate here in the U.S.

The argument around the DMCA isn't whether we shouldn't have protections: Most everyone agrees that we need to safeguard copyright, as the electronic publishing of music, movies, and books increases. The debate is really whether the act will have the unhappy effect of infringing on freedom of speech, intellectual exchange, and consumers' rights. With the Sklyarov case, DMCA opponents are drawing attention to the underlying effects that broad restrictions on circumventing copyright protection could have on intellectual or individual interests. "

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