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New York Times: Jail Time in the Digital Age

Jul 30, 2001, 12:00 (9 Talkback[s])

Lawrence Lessig has written a column for the New York Times about the Sklyarov case that introduces the background of the case to readers who may not be very familiar with the current issue or the DMCA itself:

"Dmitri Sklyarov is a Russian programmer who, until recently, lived and worked in Moscow. He wrote a program that was legal in Russia, and in most of the world, a program his employer, ElcomSoft, then sold on the Internet. Adobe Corporation bought a copy and complained to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the program violated American law and that, by the way, Mr. Sklyarov was about to give a lecture in Las Vegas describing the weaknesses in Adobe's electronic book software. Two weeks ago, the F.B.I. arrested Mr. Sklyarov. He still sits in a Las Vegas jail.

Something is going terribly wrong with copyright law in America. Mr. Sklyarov himself did not violate any law, and his employer did not violate anyone's copyright. What his program did was to enable the user of an Adobe eBook Reader to disable restrictions that the publisher of a particular electronic book formatted for Adobe's reader might have imposed. Adobe's eBook Reader, for example, has a read-aloud function. With it, the computer will read out loud an appropriately formatted eBook text. A publisher can disable that function for a particular eBook. Mr. Sklyarov's program would enable the purchaser of such a disabled eBook to overcome the restriction. A blind person, for example, could use ElcomSoft's program to listen to a book.

The problem from Adobe's perspective, however, is that the same software could enable a pirate to copy an electronic book otherwise readable only with Adobe's reader technology - then sell that copy to others without the publisher's permission. That would be a copyright violation, and it is that possibility that led Congress to enact the statute that has now landed Mr. Sklyarov in jail - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."

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