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Washington Post calls for rewrite of DMCA

By wiredog in MLP
Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 10:10:18 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

In an editorial today the Washington Post says that it is "wrong for Mr. Sklyarov to be subject to criminal penalties for writing a program that has potentially legal uses, without any obligation on the government's part to prove that he intended to aid piracy." and that "the law itself needs to be substantially narrowed."

Why is this important? Because the Post, as the newspaper with the largest circulation in the DC area, is read by all of the political class here. Even if Congressman X doesn't read it, someone on his staff surely does. Items appearing on the Editorial Page are usually related to important national and international issues and, as such, get the attention of the people who write, sign, and enforce the laws of the United States.


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Washington Post calls for rewrite of DMCA | 16 comments (15 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
This could be good (4.28 / 7) (#1)
by Spatula on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 09:21:39 AM EST

I remember my visit to DC. The Post was the only paper worth reading, and I suspect that a good number of our Representatives and Senators have the same opinion. I sincerely hope that this could be a Good ThingTM. My representative is a fairly logical human, and believe me when I say that he's going to get a snail mail regarding this particular article in the Post. I am also going to alert my fellow local geeks (as I urge other US K5'ers to do) to this particular situation.

It might not make a difference, but I bet he'll get annoyed after I send the hundredth letter or so. Handwritten, of course. It might hurt after a while, but I think this is well worth the pain.

someday I'll find something to put here.

Good to see national media taking notice (3.75 / 4) (#3)
by hillct on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 11:07:02 AM EST

It's particularly good that the editorial appeared in the Washington Post. A well respected paper read by politicians who can actually help to do something about these issues. Further, expect to see this issue appear on the sunday morning discussion shows next week, as the Washington Post editorial page is a frequent source of topics for those shows. All in all a vary positive first step.

It is still important to have people explain the details of these issues to their (non-technical) legislators in a way that doesn't come off as being the position of fringe groups of geeks. This is not helped by the known liberal leanings of the Washington post, however, it is definately a vary positive first step.


--Got Lists? | Top 31 Signs Your Spouse Is A Spy
Newsweek too (4.00 / 4) (#5)
by Alorelith on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 12:33:59 PM EST

There was also a fairly decent writeup about the Skylarov case in last week's Newsweek. Last page. It basically was a rant against the whole DMCA, but focused on young Skylarov.

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies. -- Nietzsche

[ Parent ]
The =real= significance of this... (2.14 / 7) (#4)
by jd on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 11:55:43 AM EST

You have a "hacker" (a popular target for the media), targetted by a large corporation (always considered the "good guys" in a depression) for breaking an encryption system (another popular target for the media), which -could- aid in piracy (law and order is always a popular topic). AND they're from the "Ancient Enemy", otherwise known as Russia (ooooh, a villain! And a foreigner, to boot! What a treat!).

Yet the Washington Post is saying "hey, guys, I think you went a bit too far, this time, chill out and think this through."

The mere fact that a newspaper (which is after readers, not truth - an economic fact of life) is willing to dump the easy circulation boosting rants, and go for some critical commentary... THAT is truly significant.

I don't know if aliens have been giving them brain transplants, or if the Washington Post has some moral fibres running through the suits. But who cares? The fact is, they expressed an opinion! And probably an unpopular one, at that!

For all my cynicism, I am genuinely impressed.

Unpopular? (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by Xeriar on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 05:53:07 PM EST

Maybe not with certain individuals in certain big businesses, but then again we also know how popular the Skylarov issue is with US.

When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
[ Parent ]

Words to Avoid (4.00 / 6) (#6)
by Robin Lionheart on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 05:44:03 PM EST

My only quibble with the editorial is its use of propagandistic phrases suggesting that copying e-books is "theft" of "intellectual property", even while defending "fair use" rights. Such terms further the destructive misconception that companies own songs or stories, when what they really own are limited-time copyrights to them.

Re: Words to Avoid (4.33 / 3) (#10)
by coredumped on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 08:02:43 PM EST

Actually I found the content of the editorial spot on. I found the other articles on this case to spin 'The software allows disabled people to have access to ebooks' far worse, because it was just as unbalanced as the view that the program was just about piracy.

Yes, the software could be abused, it can also be a useful tool.

The current high profile DMCA cases have all taken the 'Any tool released IS EVIL'.

DeCSS got its momentum from the evil linux hacker cranking out DVD copies with barely a mention in the mainstream press that it was the only way that "unsanctioned" OS's could watch DVDs.

The recent Felton Vs RIAA case actually pushed the DMCA into question as there was no room for ambiguity regarding Felton's justifications for research. He was exactly what the EFF needed to push the subject into the mainstream media. It has only been since that case that the mainstream media has eyed PR releases about 'evil hackers cracking our encryption' with a little more scepticism.

DeCSS lost in the court of public opinion - I truly believe that we're in an area where most people have little understanding of not only the technology but the very nature of technology. It will take several cases like Felton and Skylarov to truly alter the publics understanding and perception of these sorts of cases.

This is getting dangerously close to me veering off into different areas, I'll cut it there.

In summary: The Washington Post presented both sides of the arguement very clearly IMHO.

[ Parent ]

DMCA goes mainstream? (2.40 / 5) (#8)
by jdtux on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 06:28:34 PM EST

not sure if someone's already commented on this, but this seems to be the first time that the DMCA is in the mainstream media. Not sure if it means anything, but it's weird that it hasn't been mentioned before, as reporters are always crying about their 1st ammendment rights...

Sort of (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by wiredog on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 08:06:01 AM EST

Lawrence Lessig had an op-ed in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago and Steven Levy had one in Newsweek last week. But both of them are, in some respect, part of the hacker culture. This is the first time that a mainstream, non-hacker, writer has addressed the issue in a mainstream media.

If there's a choice between performance and ease of use, Linux will go for performance every time. -- Jerry Pournelle
[ Parent ]
They seem to be targetting the wrong issue (4.57 / 7) (#9)
by Ian Clelland on Tue Aug 21, 2001 at 08:00:15 PM EST

Or perhaps they've just missed the point of it, the whole reason people like us are appalled at what happened to Dmitry.

The editorial claims that he violated the DMCA by attempting to sell circumvention software in the US, and makes it sound like the fact that he was presenting a paper on the topic just made it more convenient for the FBI to pick him up. (It just meant that they knew where he would be.)

If this is the case, then the law seems quite tame, and almost justified. If I sell something in your country which is illegal, then I have committed a crime in your country, whether or not it is illegal in mine. Someone from Amsterdam could not come to the US and attempt to sell pot, even over the Internet. Regardless of any legal uses, it's still a crime in the US.

The Post editorial leaves the reader thinking that perhaps the law goes a little too far in defining what is illegal; perhaps its punishments are a little too harsh - but it is salvageable. If it just gets rewritten a bit -- touched up, here and there -- it could be a good law.

My interpretation of the events though (and feel free to blow me out of the water if I'm way off base here) was that Sklyarov developed a piece of software in Russia which was perfectly legal in Russia, and if Adobe or the FBI didn't like it, well, that was just too bad for them.

His mistake was to come to the US and give a public presentation about the technology and the methods of circumventing it. Under the DMCA, this is considered to be providing information about illegal circumvention measures, and is itself illegal. The FBI was able to pick him up because of the presentation, not necessarily the software itself.

This is the point which the Post missed -- that a person could be subjected to criminal charges for merely speaking out about copyright-protection technology, could get a criminal record for performing scientific research, could go to jail for doing legal work in your own country - and then talking about it.

I'm glad the the main5tream American press is starting to see the holes in the DMCA, but I'm worried that they may be presenting the wrong message - that the law is fundamentally good, but a little flawed, and just needs a couple of adjustments.

Article echoing the WP's version of the events. (4.00 / 1) (#11)
by CrazySteve on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:28:03 AM EST

This article recently sent to politech mailing list, while rather long and taking a while to get to the point, puts forward the version of events where the software was being sold in the US, in spite of requests from Adobe for them not to do so.

The relevant paragraph from the linked page, about two-thirds of the way through it:

Nor should Sklyarov's July 16 arrest have come as a surprise to either ElcomSoft or Sklyarov, unless ElcomSoft was cruelly keeping Sklyarov in the dark about Adobe's dissatisfaction with ElcomSoft's business operations. On June 25, Adobe's anti-piracy unit warned ElcomSoft that its product was illegal and demanded that the product be removed from its Web site. ElcomSoft refused. On June 25, Adobe also demanded that ElcomSoft's Internet Service Provider, Verio Inc., terminate ElcomSoft's service if ElcomSoft did not take down the Adobe circumvention software. After Verio told ElcomSoft of the demand, ElcomSoft switched ISPs, managing to keep its site afloat, though Verio cut off service by June 27. On June 28, Adobe demanded that Register Now stop serving as ElcomSoft's billing agent, prompting ElcomSoft to advise Register Now that it had better protect itself by honoring Adobe's demand. It is unclear whether ElcomSoft planned to arrange a substitute method of payment.

[ Parent ]
Washington Post had it right (none / 0) (#13)
by mbrubeck on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:16:22 PM EST

The criminal complaint against Sklyarov, and the affadavit for his arrest, make no mention of the Defcon talk. The charges are for selling Advanced eBook Reader in the US. The sales were being made on Elcomsoft's behalf by a US distributor. Sklyarov was listed as the copyright holder in the program documentation, so he is (legally) in ultimate control over all distribution and licensing.

If you want to show the public the true effects of the DMCA on free speech and scientific research, you should focus instead on Felten v RIAA.

Misinformation like "Sklyarov was arrested for giving a presentation" is easily debunked by DMCA supporters, and will not help our cause, even though it sounds good. It's surprising how many anti-DMCA protesters aren't even familiar with the material covered by the EFF's own US v Sklyarov FAQ.

[ Parent ]

hmm... (none / 0) (#14)
by Danse on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 10:02:35 PM EST

From what I heard, he also distributed some CDs with the software on it after his talk. Not sure if that's correct or not, but it would certainly give them a reason to go after him. As for him being a copyright holder, I don't know whether that makes him liable or not. He held the copyright, but there could be many other factors involved. Was he hired under a contract that required him to freely license his work to his employer perhaps? Some other similar situation? Who knows. I'd sure like to know though.

Either way though, the DMCA is BAD. Even if his software could be used to infringe copyrights, there are also plenty of legal uses for it. The law is wrong.

An honest debate between Bush and Kerry
[ Parent ]
[sigh] (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by silpol on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 04:45:34 AM EST

I'm not lawyer at all, just playing around with facts and my own guesses... 1)a dispute about software in-question has been started far enough before Sklyarov came to US; 2)the legal Big Brother in US, apparently, has been notified about ongoing case well before Sklyarov applied for visa in US Embassy; 3)hundreds of applications for visa in Moscow embassy are rejected daily, but Sklyarov's case was all-clear; now, is it logical that some legal govt bodies of US has been manipulating to setup Sklyarov for such a case? thus, I see it as US legal machine is not to prevent a crime, rather to setup a victim, manipulate on case, and pull intended result as it was "crime" by a victim... Just ask yourself a simple question: if US Embassy in Moscow were rejected visa for Sklyarov, would we see any case against Sklyarov? Now, do _you_ have any doubts around of hints to that Embassy on Sklyarov? "Free Dmitry Sklyarov"

[ Parent ]
The Economist also condemned this (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by Scrymarch on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 06:04:54 AM EST

The article was "But Dmitry did no wrong" from August 4th. The online version is for subscribers only, link.

While a magazine, rather than a newspaper, it's all useful, fairly mainstream coverage.

Washington Post calls for rewrite of DMCA | 16 comments (15 topical, 1 editorial, 0 hidden)
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