July 20, 2001

Sklyarov arrest roundup: EFF to meet with Adobe, but protests still on

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -
- Updated 9:27 p.m. EST -
A top Linux kernel hacker is calling for a boycott of technology conferences in the United States, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking organizers of planned protests to put them on hold while it negotiates with Adobe for the release of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, who was arrested after speaking at Def Con in Las Vegas earlier this week.

The EFF was helping organize protests in seven U.S. cities and Moscow, Russia, but EFF online activist Will Doherty asked people on the free-sklyarov email list to postpone action while the EFF meets with Adobe on Monday. However, many list members planning protests Monday said they wouldn't back off until Sklyarov was released from jail.

Check the BoycottAdobe rallies page for information on where protests are now planned. As of late Friday, the list had actually expanded from eight to 13 cities since the EFF had withdrawn its support earlier in the day.

If you've been following tech news at all this week, you know that Sklyarov was arrested for violating the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes criminals out of those who create programs to circumvent copyright protections, even though no such law exists in his homeland. Sklyarov's alleged crime was developing software that allows buyers of eBooks, the copyrighted digital book format created by Adobe Systems, to back up eBook files or view them on unsupported platforms, such as Linux.

Adobe alerted the FBI to pursue the case against Sklyarov and his employer, Russian software company ElcomSoft, according to news reports.

But Adobe has agreed to talk with the EFF Monday. "Please help us act in good faith and postpone the protest until we have a chance to negotiate with Adobe," Doherty wrote to the list. "Of course, we can always rekindle the protest if Adobe does not agree to withdraw their complaint
to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding Dmitry Sklyarov and to refuse to pursue further prosecutions under the DMCA for cases that should be prevented
under fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law."

However, dozens of members of the mailing list questioned that tactic, saying it'd look like activists are caving to Adobe, and the protest is losing steam, if the protests are postponed.

Doherty said the EFF will not cave on the issue, but Adobe only agreed to meet if the protests are postponed.

"If you still feel that you have to protest on Monday, you are of course free to do so," he wrote. "However, it may be a more effective use of our collective energies to act in a coordinated way to get Dmitry out of jail. This is about sane negotiation to get a guy out of jail.

"We would like to believe that Adobe will be negotiating in earnest and it is not EFF's
style to engage in punitive protests when there is hope of a negotiated solution," he added. "If some folks go ahead and protest and antagonize
Adobe, that may escalate the situation, preclude Adobe withdrawing their complaint,
and keep Dmitry in jail. And of course, we will still protest until the government
no longer agrees to prosecute such anti-fair-use cases under the DMCA or until the DMCA is amended or judicially restricted so that such prosecutions can no longer occur."

The staff of the EFF released a further statement late Friday, saying negotiations with Adobe "could be the fastest way" to get Sklyarov released from jail.

The EFF has a Web page set up to provide information about the protests, if they still happen.

Likely to be interesting is the protest planned in San Jose, Calif., at 11 a.m. local time on Monday. Protesters will walk from the snake sculpture, at the south end of Cesar de Chavez Park, at the corner of South Market St. and West San Carlos St., to the main offices of Adobe, two blocks away.

Not on the EFF list as of early this afternoon was a protest tentatively planned at noon on Monday in New York City, at Adobe offices, across the street from the New York Public Library. People from NYLUG were planning the protest.

Other protests over the arrest:

Cox calls for boycott of U.S.

Linux kernel maintainer Alan Cox has resigned from the USENIX Annual Linux Showcase committee and is calling for a boycott of U.S. technology conferences. He asks all non-U.S. citizens to stay away from U.S. technology conferences, and U.S. companies to hold their conferences elsewhere.

"With the arrest of Dimitry Sklyarov, it has become apparent that it is not safe for non-U.S. software engineers to visit the United States. While he was undoubtedly chosen for political reasons as a Russian, [this] is a good example for the U.S. public, the risk extends arbitrarily further," Cox writes. "USENIX by its choice of a U.S. location is encouraging other programmers, many from Eastern European states hated by the U.S. government to take the same risks. That is something I cannot morally be part of. Who will be the next conference speaker slammed into a U.S. ail for years for committing no crime?"

Cox says he doesn't blame ALS sponsor USENIX for the offending DMCA law, but the problem "must be addressed." The fifth Annual Linux Showcase and Conference is scheduled for Nov. 5 to 10 in Oakland, Calif.

Ellie Young, executive director of the USENIX Association, released a short statement: "USENIX regrets to see that foreign scholars and researchers are being discouraged from participating in conferences in the USA because of the recent actions of the Justice Deparment in the Sklyarov affair," Young said.

USENIX has no immediate plans to change the location of the conference, Young added. "Alan's statement may actually help the Felten case, though, by showing
a First Amendment chill on the expression of foreign researchers, who
would otherwise come to the U.S. for conferences if it wasn't for the
threat of the DMCA," Young said.

However, Jon "maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, asked Cox to direct his "venom to those who deserve it." In an email to Cox and the media organizations Cox sent his boycott email to, Hall says: "To choose ALS as the focus of your first message on this I feel is a little unfair, particularly with the recent steps that USENIX has taken to working with the EFF to defend the rights of University professors to publish their research works around DCMA ... Your wording around USENIX 'choosing a U.S. location' ignores the fact that ALS has always been in the U.S."

Another boycott, this one of Adobe

Reported by The Register and elsewhere, BoycottAdobe.com is calling for a boycott of Adobe products. "Adobe helps graphic designers turn ideas into art," the Web site says. "Adobe also helps turn security experts into felons."

The site asks concerned people to sell their Adobe stock, write Adobe, write their congressional representatives, donate money to Sklyarov's defense, and use alternatives to Adobe products, such as Open Source products GIMP and the program formerly known as Killustrator.

At least one company has taken BoycottAdobe's advice. Andrew Lawrence, president of the Toronto Web design firm Smoke & Mirrors said Friday he has banned the purchase of Adobe products at his company. "Adobe will always be infamous in my mind as the company that put 'This
book may not be read aloud' into the licensing conditions for a public domain
text," Lawrence wrote to the free-sklyarov email list. "The prosecution of a Russian programmer, for an act that is perfectly legal in any country outside of the United States, has led me to
decide that [Adobe's] business ethics are outside the bounds of those with whom I wish
to do business."

Several protests are being planned on the free-sklyarov list, but a warning, it's a very high-volume mailing list.

Also, as pointed out on Slashdot, Professor Dave Touretzky of DeCSS Gallery fame is looking for "remedies" to circumvent Adobe's access control and encryption mechanisms.

Congressman: There should be no crime here

The Boston Globe is reporting that U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, is again questioning the DMCA after Sklyarov's arrest. From the article: "He says there are legitimate reasons why an electronic book owner might wish to copy all or part of the text -- to make a backup copy, or to include an excerpt in some other document. This concept, called 'fair use,' is well established in copyright law."

Declaration for Dmitry

Chris DiBona, an employee of NewsForge owner OSDN/VA Linux, has posted a "Community Declaration of support for Dmitry and against the DMCA that bestowed upon the FBI the power to arrest him." DiBona's collecting signatures there, and the document already has support of Open Source leaders as Miguel Di Icaza, co-founder and CTO of Ximian; Bruce Perens, primary author of The Open Source Definition; Eric S. Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative; Linus Torvalds, lead Linux kernel developer; and Bob Young, co-founder and chairman of Red Hat.

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