Dmitry Sklyarov, a lead programmer for Russian software company ElcomSoft, was visiting the United States for the annual Defcon hacker convention, where he gave a talk on the often-flawed security of e-books.
This would be the second known prosecution under the criminal sections of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, (DMCA) which took effect last year and makes it a crime to "manufacture" products that circumvent copy protection safeguards.
Vladimir Katalov, Elcom's managing director, told PlanetEbook that Sklyarov was arrested for distributing the company's Advanced eBook Processor as he was on his way home and that he is being held in a Las Vegas jail while awaiting transfer to California.
This is the latest round in an increasingly nasty battle between Elcomsoft and Adobe, which fired off a stiff letter to the Russian firm a few weeks ago claiming "unauthorized activity relating to copyrighted materials," and requesting that the $100 eBook decoder be taken off the market.
At the time, Katalov replied on the comp.text.pdf newsgroup by dismissing Adobe's complaints as specious: "We'll just move our site to another ISP, in another country (where there is no Digital Millennium Copyright Act). And/or make our software available for free, under the GNU license."
So far, hackers and open-source advocates have paid the most attention to the DMCA's civil portions, which eight movie studios used in an attempt to compel 2600 Magazine to remove a DVD-descrambling program from their website.
The recording industry threatened Ed Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor, with a civil suit under the DMCA if he presented his research on copy protection plans, prompting the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file a lawsuit trying to declare the DMCA unconstitutional on free-speech grounds.
Federal prosecutors in Florida have filed one case against a man who allegedly distributed cards that circumvent satellite content protection systems. Dario Diaz, the defense attorney involved in the case, said in an interview last week that he did not know of any other DMCA prosecutions.
Sklyarov, who works in Moscow, was arrested at the Las Vegas airport on Monday morning, according to his employer.
During its exchanges with Adobe, Elcomsoft has taken the position -- with which many security experts agree -- that any kind of eBook protection system running on insecure hardware, including Acrobat PDF, is inherently insecure.
"We would like to state our intention to publish the sources of our software in the Internet, and do our best to make them available to everyone all over the world if Adobe Systems continues to pursue us," Elcomsoft says on its website.
An e-mail message dated June 25 from Adobe's anti-piracy team to Elcomsoft says: "Offering of this product without Adobe's consent constitutes contributory copyright infringement.... This violation is a matter of great concern and will be pursued aggressively by Adobe Systems."
Adobe also pressured Elcomsoft's former Internet provider, Verio, to pull the plug on the company's website. Elcomsoft has since moved its online operations to a Russian provider.
An earlier version of Elcomsoft's decoder appears to have caused BarnesandNoble.com to temporarily yank some eBooks from its online store last month. Adobe quickly released an improved encoder, sparking a kind of virtual arms race between the two firms.
Since the U.S. is alone in having a law as broad as the DMCA -- though Europe is weighing a similar scheme -- the threat of criminal prosecution could prompt overseas security researchers to boycott American firms.
After Felten, the Princeton professor, initially bowed to threats from the recording industry and did not present his paper at a conference in Pittsburgh in April, organizers predicted an American boycott could happen.Ross Anderson, a reader in security engineering at Cambridge University, said at the time: "There is a question whether it will be prudent to hold certain types of security conferences in the U.S. in the future.... We can't really tolerate a situation where anyone who breaks a system that embarrasses someone gets served with a writ."
picture from an old blog of Nicky's