Dmitry Sklyarov talks to The Moscow Times about life before, after DMCA indictment
Elcomsoft programmer desires stronger copyright laws in Russia

ALSO: "EFF opposes Digital Copyright Law in Russian eBook Format Case"

6 February 2002

Moscow Times
"[the U.S. justice system] ... works like a bulldozer that can't move fast and isn't in a hurry to get anywhere."
-- Dmitry Sklyarov

The following article is re-published with the expressed permission of the author and The Moscow Times newspaper (www.themoscowtimes.com):

"From Computer Games to U.S. Prison Cells"
By Larisa Naumenko, Staff Writer
Copyright 2002 (c) The Moscow Times, page 7
January 29, 2002

As a young boy playing basic computer games, Dmitry Sklyarov could hardly have imagined that 20 years later, his lifelong passion would land him in jail and on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.

But that is exactly what happened last year when Sklyarov became the first person to be prosecuted under the United States' controversial 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Sklyarov's crime was to have written a software program that made it possible for people using eBook Reader by Adobe Systems Inc. to make copies of eBook files and transfer them to other devices. Sklyarov was arrested in July after attending a hackers' conference in Las Vegas. Adobe had complained to the FBI that Sklyarov and his employer, Moscow-based software company ElcomSoft, had violated the DMCA.

Although Adobe backed off and asked the U.S. government to release him a week after his arrest, Sklyarov, 27, spent three weeks in prison and was subsequently prevented from leaving the country for more than four months. He was finally allowed to return home on New Year's Eve.

In return for his release, Sklyarov must appear as a witness in the trial against his employer, ElcomSoft, expected to begin April 15. Under a compromise with the U.S. government, the charges against Sklyarov will be dropped if he does not violate any laws for at least one year or until the trial ends.

Less than a month after his return to Moscow, Sklyarov looked and sounded composed.

"I am very glad to be back home," he said in an interview with The Moscow Times last week. "I feel good."

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U.S. Prison Experiences

Sklyarov was unable to discuss the specifics of the legal case, but he was happy to talk about his experiences in various U.S. prisons. "Federal prisons are better than the state ones," he said.

In Las Vegas, he had to share a prison dorm with some 60 cellmates. It was clean and the food was OK, he said. The shower could be used at any time during the day.

"When I was a student, I had to do a mandatory stint on a construction project after my first year at university. The shower was a 20-minute walk away," Sklyarov said. "In prison, it was much closer than that. It was more convenient."

The Oklahoma Federal Transfer Center was even better, he said, with separate rooms, each housing two people. The food was nicer and razors were provided at the check-in and did not have to be returned.

"I can't even imagine razors being given out in Russian prisons," he said with a shrug. "I don't know how people shave in Russian prisons."

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Free Dmitry
PDF Irony: Some pro-Dmitry Sklyarov supporters (or at least anti-DMCA activists) distributed protest posters and petitions in Adobe's portable document format (PDF) on the Internet in opposition to his arrest for allegedly developing a tool primarily for the use of circumventing copyright protection of Adobe PDF-based electronic books.

Thankful for Global Support

Sklyarov said his cellmates were supportive and were happy when Adobe asked for his release.

He was surprised by how much support he received from Americans who held street rallies and created web sites demanding his release.

"It impressed me. Honestly, I didn't expect it," he said. "Perhaps they are truly concerned with this law and they are trying to do whatever they can to change the situation."

Sklyarov was less positive about the U.S. justice system. "It works like a bulldozer that can't move fast and isn't in a hurry to get anywhere," he said.

Long-time Interest in Computers

Sklyarov has been interested in computers for as long as he can remember. His father worked at the Moscow Higher Technical Institute, supervising the institute's 40 rudimentary computer terminals, and he let the 5-year-old Dmitry play on the machines.

"Computers have always fascinated me," Sklyarov said. "They give you an opportunity to make something."

When he began computer classes in school at age 12, Sklyarov's interest in the machines and what they can do grew.

"I get satisfaction from the process of creating a program and from the moment when it starts working," he said, adding that there is always something new to work on after finishing a project. "The amount of ideas is much bigger than the amount of time you have for their realization."

In high school, Sklyarov was good at mathematics and decided that he would major in something connected to computers. He chose to go to Bauman Moscow State Technical University -- where he has now re-enrolled as a graduate student -- because it was only a couple of metro stations from his home.

"It's a very good school," he said, adding that the university offers specialization in computer-aided design.

Like many other specialists in his field, Sklyarov learned programming languages on the side through various books and manuals.

During his second year at university in the spring of 1993, Sklyarov began moonlighting at a company called ADC Communications, where he assembled computers and installed computer networks.

Two years later, he moved to TerraSpace, and in early 2000 he joined ElcomSoft, where he worked as a programmer. While at ElcomSoft, he also did some offshore programming for a U.S. company.

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Software Programming in Russia

Skylarov believes that Russia's programming sector has been prevented from developing into a serious industry because of a lack of proper management.

"Even for offshore programming, you need good managers," he said. "It's nearly impossible to find good Russian managers, since they are already either employed in this country or abroad."

Sklyarov blames the brain drain on the government. "If the government is not capable of providing people with good, well-paying jobs and appropriate conditions for work, good specialists will continue to leave," he said. "It's not just a whim for these people, it's a normal desire to work and earn money for what they do."

Government Must Stop Piracy

Despite his tribulations in the United States, Sklyarov would like the Russian government to implement copyright laws and do more to stop the distribution of pirated products.

"As a person who writes programs that are then illegally copied and sold, I feel that if anyone can use them without paying, I will not be able to earn my living," he said.

At the moment, the government is doing nothing about these problems because it is unwilling to deal with the issue, Sklyarov said.

"Piracy will stay beneficial for the government, since government structures are getting money from it," he said. "The government will not really try to fight against it," he said. "Piracy will stay in Russia for a long time."

Future Plans -- in Russia

Still, Sklyarov would like to live and work in Russia, not in the United States.

"American society is boring," he said. "It's too predictable what will happen tomorrow."

In the short term, Sklyarov is aiming to finish his thesis titled "A Method of Analyzing Programming Means to Protect Electronic Documents" and to receive a postgraduate degree in May or June. He also continues to work for ElcomSoft.

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