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FBI nabs Russian expert at Def Con

By Robert Lemos, ZDNN

July 17, 2001 3:05 PM PT

URL: http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,5094266,00.html

The FBI took a Russian encryption expert into custody Monday at his hotel in Las Vegas 
for publishing software that cracks a variety of methods used to secure e-books and 
thus, according to the bureau, violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The FBI 
acknowledged the arrest Tuesday.

The arrest came a day after the security researcher, Dmitry Sklyarov, outlined the 
problems plaguing e-book formats and Adobe's PDF format at the Def Con hacking 

According to the FBI, the warrant for Sklyarov's arrest was issued in the Northern 
District of California. "He is being held pending extradition back to San Francisco," 
said Daron W. Borst, a spokesman for the FBI's Las Vegas office. If convicted, 
Sklyarov would face a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine and 5 years in prison.

The arrest was first reported by Planet eBook.

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.

While ElcomSoft has been careful to stress what it sees as fair-use aspects of the 
program, such as making backups of e-books or enabling them to be read on other 
devices owned by the same user, the software has been criticized by Adobe Systems and 
other e-book companies as a technology that could allow the rampant copying of 
electronically published texts.

According to ElcomSoft's Web site, the ability to make a backup copy of electronic 
software or documents is required by Russian law. The Advanced eBook Processor 
software only grants non-U.S. users of such software the rights they have by law, 
ElcomSoft says.

Adobe has filed a lawsuit against the company, and, according to ElcomSoft's Web site, 
its complaints are the source of the warrant behind Sklyarov's arrest. Adobe could not 
be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

This is the second use of the DMCA's criminal provisions to prosecute a person accused 
of copyright infringement. Dario Diaz, a public defender in Tampa, Fla., told Def Con 
attendees on Saturday of another case, in which Diaz's client is accused of violations 
of the DMCA for creating cards that can decrypt satellite TV signals.

"This is pretty amazing," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of the School of Library 
and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "I never thought 
that the DMCA criminal provisions would be actively used. (Antipiracy efforts) are 
usually all about threat and bluster and money."

The prosecution of the Russian software engineer should worry security researchers, 
said Robert Graham, chief scientist for security company Internet Security Systems.

"All security people in this industry are in danger of falling afoul of laws," he 
said, adding that the choice of who gets prosecuted by the FBI is typically a matter 
of bad luck. "There is so much stuff going on right now, if the FBI doesn't like 
you--if you are not squeaky clean--they can get on your case.

"Most security researchers I know aren't squeaky clean," he added.

Edward Felten, a professor of computer science at Princeton University, has already 
fallen afoul of the DMCA. After researching the weaknesses in several possible 
technologies proposed by the Secure Digital Music Initiative, Felton and his research 
group were prevented from publishing their research paper by the threat of a civil 
lawsuit. Now, Felton is suing the Recording Industry Association of America and the 
SDMI for effectively censoring his research.

Jennifer Granick, the clinical director of Stanford University's Center for Internet 
and Society, has also criticized the move by the software industry and the FBI.

"American corporations have never been shy about using taxpayer money to enforce their 
rights," she said.

Like the Felton case, however, these cases offer an opportunity to challenge the law.

"This could be the beginning of something bad," Granick said. "Or it could be the 
beginning of something good--if people say, 'What the heck is this law that we've 

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