Adobe has dropped charges against a Russian programmer arrested for copyright infringement of its products, but the incident has nevertheless reinvigorated opposition to a digital-rights law that affects all computer users.
The software vendor said Monday it is dropping charges against jailed Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov. Protestors rallied in varying numbers in more than 20 cities Monday, urging sale of Adobe stock and a boycott of Adobe products.
Sklyarov was arrested in Las Vegas on July 16 after the conclusion of the Def Con hacker conference, where he had presented material on undoing Adobe's eBook encryption. The FBI arrested Sklyarov at the behest of Adobe, charging him with violating a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act preventing the sale of tools designed to circumvent copy-control technology.
Sklyarov, a programmer for Moscow-based ElcomSoft, wrote Advanced eBook Processor, which converts files from Adobe's secure eBook Reader format to the more widely used PDF. The program is legal in Russia. Adobe's eBook format restricts users from manipulating files in several ways, including backing it up, printing it, or copying and pasting from it.
"I think that folks here (at Adobe) are becoming very sympathetic to the public outcry and not wanting to lose customers and let the situation escalate into an even grander international incident than it has already become," says Robin Gross, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of Adobe's reversal.
The EFF, a leading cyber-rights organization, met with Adobe officials for more than four hours Monday before agreeing the EFF and Adobe would jointly recommend Sklyarov's release, and Adobe would withdraw its complaint, Gross says. The EFF initially joined the protests, but withdrew when Adobe agreed to meet.
"There were quite a few (protestors), and I think that had quite a bit of influence over the employees and negotiators," Gross adds. The government still needs to formally drop charges, but Gross expects that will occur and Sklyarov will be released.
Bill Scannell, a security consultant who organized the Adobe boycott with Peter Shipley, praised Adobe's decision.
"Adobe has done the right thing," said Scannell, who joined 43 protestors in Seattle, and said he was "happy with everything" about the response.
The demonstrations were of varied strength around the globe. Besides rejecting the DMCA as an affront to fair use, they complain that Adobe's copy-protection technology is inadequate, and that Sklyarov should not be punished for pointing out its flaws.
Don Marti, vice president of Silicon Valley Linux Users Group, led anti-Adobe chants by protestors waving signs in San Jose.
"Frankly, we're just mad. We're just disgusted with Adobe, and we don't want to be quiet," Marti says. "When you mess with the right to read, you set a lot of people off," he says.
More to the point, Adobe asked the FBI to take criminal action against someone when it should have been a civil action, Marti says.
"Imagine if an American programmer was arrested in Russia for doing something that is legal here," he says.
Def Con, a long-standing security conference that has drawn both hackers and security professionals, is supposed to be a neutral ground where ideas are exchanged, says Praveen Sinha, a freelance programmer who attended Def Con and joined the protest in San Jose.
"Having (the FBI) arrest (Dmitry) at a talk at a security conference – that pushed me over the line," Sinha says. "We're trying to create an atmosphere of intellectual debate" at Def Con, he adds. "Adobe is threatening our right to educate ourselves."