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HAL attendees urged to resist global DMCA
Ann Harrison, SecurityFocus 2001-08-10

Hackers and security researchers at the international conference watch the Sklyarov Case, and cancel U.S. travel plans.

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands--Wearing a shirt emblazoned with a four-letter word, which he hoped would repel the U.S. media, Eric Corley kicked of the Hackers At Large (HAL) 2001 conference today here by urging attendees to fight a European version of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Corley, better known under the pen name Emmanuel Goldstein, was the first person prosecuted under the civil provisions of the DMCA when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) sued him and his 2600 Magazine for posting the DeCSS program, which can be used to bypass the scrambling on DVD disks.

Hackers at HAL are infuriated by the more recent use of the DMCA to launch criminal charges last month against Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer who was arrested in the U.S. for authoring a program that breaks Adobe's weak eBook copy protection. Sklyarov was freed Monday on $50,000 bail, but faces up to five years in prison if convicted under the U.S. law.

"Everyone knows that the way we do things back in America is destructive and self defeating and sometimes I think that the rest of the world is tolerating us just to see how badly we [screw] up," said Corley. "But if you don't resist our domination and the way we deal with problems, you will be playing by our rules."

U.S. considered 'dangerous' territory
HAL attendee Tom Vogt, who was sued by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD-CCA) under trade secret laws for posting a DeCSS mirror site in 1999, said he is already feeling fallout from the Sklyarov case.

"I have an offer from a large company in the U.S to attend a workshop as a speaker and I am very seriously considering not going because of this DMCA...," said Vogt who is a security professional at German ISP Hansenet in Hamburg. "I consider even visiting the States an unmanageable personal risk, a lot of people I talk to think very similarly and consider the States a dangerous place to visit."

Even if he remains in Germany, Vogt said he may not be entirely safe from the long arm of the entertainment industry. He noted that members of the Hague Convention are drafting a treaty that would extend the reach of U.S. law to all member countries. This would allow U.S. companies and organizations to sue a researcher under the DMCA in their country of residence.

In the meantime, a version of the DMCA is already heading for Europe under the Copyright Directive drafted by the European Commission in April. Spurred by the 1996 WIPO Treaty on intellectual property, the Directive uses much of the same language found in the DMCA.

European nations have 18 months to embed the directive in their national laws, says Vogt, time enough to make exemptions for fair use and define the vague language of what denotes an "effective" circumvention method.

"To avoid being arrested in Europe, we must put pressure on national governments so the laws they enact are not the equivalent of the DMCA," says Vogt.

But Jonathan Callas, a senior systems architect for platform engineering at Wave Systems Corp. in Cupertino, CA, said he is optimistic that the Sklyarov case will provide the momentum to overturn the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA.

Callas, who testified for the U.S. Congress during while the DMCA was being drafted, fought for the anti-circumvention exceptions for security research.

eBook Boycott
In a HAL workshop entitled, the Effect of Anti-Circumvention provisions on Security, Callas said anti-circumvention laws should be tied to actual infringement.

"I know some people who have researched remarkable weaknesses on video encryption techniques and one of the fallouts of the Dmitry case is that they are not sure if it is legal to publish the results," said Callas. "They are declining to do so, but the pirates will figure it out."

Callas noted that the DMCA is supposed to be reviewed every two or three years by the Librarian of Congress. He believes that the upcoming court decision on the right of Princeton professor Ed Felten to publish security research that the recording industry attempted to suppress under the DMCA will help prompt revision of the Act.

"I might be naively optimistic, but I know that Congress did not intend this to happen at the time," said Callas who said the extraterritorial aspects of the Sklyarov case frighten him most. "I was there when Billy Tozan, the Congressman from Louisiana who is chair of the telecommunications subcommittee, wagged a finger at the guy from the MPAA and said, 'I do not want this to be another Betamax case in three years.'"

In the meantime, Callas and others at HAL are calling for a boycott of eBooks and wondering whether they would jump bail if they were Sklyarov.

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