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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Arrested After U.S. Hacker Convention

LOS ANGELES — A Russian computer programmer who gave a presentation at the DefCon hacker convention in Las Vegas last weekend has been arrested by the FBI on charges that he wrote a program that allegedly circumvents a controversial U.S. copyright law.

Dmitry Sklyarov, 26, was arrested in his room at the Alexis Park Hotel on Monday as he prepared to check out and return to Moscow, special FBI agent Daron Borst said Tuesday.

Sklyarov was ordered held without bail during an initial appearance in federal court in Las Vegas on Monday and will be transferred to San Francisco, where he has been indicted on charges of trafficking in software to circumvent copyrighted materials, Borst said.

While there have been civil cases brought under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, this is one of the first criminal cases brought under the controversial law, lawyers said.

"This could be the test case; the case to set the precedent," said Dario Diaz, a Tampa, Florida-based attorney who specializes in digital copyright law.

Sklyarov, who faces up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine if convicted, wrote a software program that Adobe Systems Inc. claims violates the DMCA, according to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Adobe alleges the program allows people to circumvent copyright protection mechanisms on its eBook Reader, which allows people who have purchased books in digital form to read them.

Sklyarov's program decrypts and converts the eBook files to Adobe's Portable Digital Format, enabling anyone using a PDF viewer to view it, said Vladimir Katalov, managing director of ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., the Moscow-based company that employs Sklyarov.

The program allows eBook readers to make copies of and transfer eBook files to other devices such as handhelds, Katalov added.

ElcomSoft specializes in software that enables companies to recover encrypted data when passwords are lost, said Katalov, reached by telephone in Portland, Oregon.

Katalov, in defense of Sklyarov, said Adobe was bringing the legal action because the company "can't fix their security problems in their products."

"It [Sklyarov's program] only decrypts books you have purchased, so it can only be used by the legal owner of the book," Katalov said.

ElcomSoft began selling the program for $99 about a month ago but stopped after Adobe complained, Katalov said. Adobe also managed to get ElcomSoft's web site shut down a few times by lodging a complaint with its service provider, he said.

U.S. copyright protection law conflicts with laws in Russia, Germany and Scandinavian countries, which require software makers to provide a way for users to create a backup copy, Katalov said. "So, in reality, Adobe software is illegal in Russia," he said.

Sklyarov gave a talk Sunday at the DefCon convention entitled "eBooks Security: Theory and Practice," in which he talked about his program and weaknesses in Adobe's software.

An Adobe executive said the company stands by the claims in the complaint.

"No software on the market is 100 percent safe from determined hackers," said Adobe marketing vice president Susan Altman Prescott. "However, this is not a new business for Adobe, the notion of protection of digital content, and we will continue to use industry standard technologies to make our products difficult to compromise."

Controversy has surrounded the digital copyright act ever since it went into effect last year, with public advocacy groups arguing that it violates free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"The statute draws a distinction between every way copyrighted material has been distributed in the past and digitally distributed material," said Edward Hernstadt, an attorney for 2600 Magazine, which is appealing a civil case filed in New York under the law.

In that case, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Secure Digital Music Initiative claimed 2600 Magazine's online publication of a program called the Decrypt Content Scramble System, or DeCSS, that cracks encrypted digital video discs, violated the law.

In June, public advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a civil lawsuit against the entertainment trade groups seeking to have the DMCA ruled unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed after the trade groups threatened to sue Princeton University computer science professor Ed Felten over his plans to publish his research into digital music access control technologies.

"The law is new and untested," said Diaz, who spoke on copyright law at DefCon.

Some security experts also oppose the law, claiming there is no sure way to prevent the copying of digital data.

"Really, what this is doing is companies are using the law to hide the fact that their security is bad," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptography expert and chief technology officer at Counterpane Internet Security, a computer network monitoring firm.

"The information for how to copy PDF files is being treated the same as lock picks and nuclear information," Schneier said.