U grad students rally behind Russian jailed in United States

by Justin Ware

A Russian man could end up in prison because he allegedly broke a U.S. Internet-file-sharing statute. University computer science graduate students want to free him to ensure they are not next.

Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian graduate student who worked for Russia-based ElcomSoft, was indicted on five counts of trafficking in a copyright circumvention device July 16 in Las Vegas.

Sklyarov was in Las Vegas to deliver a speech on the software he helped produced in Russia.

“He was not aware that it was illegal,” physics graduate student Jim Crumley said.

Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, anti-circumvention laws prohibit developing software that allows users to violate copyright laws. Similar laws do not exist in Russia.

Law School professor Dan Burk likened the situation to the recent U.S.-based Yahoo and French government clash.

France insisted Yahoo prevent users in the country from viewing Nazi Web sites. Yahoo said to do such a thing would be impossible.

Burk said Sklyarov did break U.S. laws, but he added that “it is extremely difficult to filter (Internet content) by geographic location. The wrinkle in the case is that (the software) is in Russia.”

Computer science and engineering professor Joseph Konstan said the lawsuit is on shaky ground because Sklyarov didn’t actually break copyright, but he did provide the means to break encrypted software.

“Building tools for breaking into a safe may be illegal, even if the builder of the tool isn’t the one to break into the safe,” Konstan said.

Crumley said he is worried about what the case could do to freedom of research.

“This hurts people’s intellectual freedom,” Crumley said. “(What Sklyarov produced) was basic computer science research.”

“Most legal scholars don’t think what (Sklyarov) did is copyright infringement,” rhetoric professor Laura Gurak said. “Everybody was waiting for a case like this to show how absurd the DMCA was.”

Adobe Systems Inc. originally brought the case to attention as it feared the encryption-breaking software could be used to illegally share programs, particularly its eBook software.

ElcomSoft agreed in June to remove the software from the U.S. market to comply with Adobe

However, the software was still available in the United States via the Internet.

In response to the nation’s action, Russia advised all its computer programmers to take caution when traveling in the United States.

While some may feel the nature of the crime is absurd, Burk said, according to the law Sklyarov is guilty.

“If you traffic a device capable of breaking encription software, then you are violating the DMCA,” he said.