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August 11, 2001

Rallies Impress Cryptographer Held in E-Book Case


Dmitri Sklyarov rarely reads electronic books. "There are almost no e-books in Russian," said Mr. Sklyarov, the 26-year- old Moscow cryptographer who was arrested in Las Vegas last month under a 1998 digital copyright law. "I prefer paper books. They're much easier to carry with me, and can be read anywhere."

In fact, most people still prefer paper books. Unlike music and film, books have yet to be popularly accepted in digital format. Nevertheless, the nascent market has heightened the publishing industry's sensitivity to the potential for digital piracy, enough so that it has initiated the first criminal case under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. And Mr. Sklyarov is the first to be charged.

Mr. Sklyarov, who is now free on bail in Northern California, was charged with trafficking of a program that decrypts Adobe Systems (news/quote)' software for electronic books, allowing them to be copied.

The lanky, mild-mannered father of two spoke about the case, and his path to a career in cryptography, in an interview yesterday, four days after he was released from a jail in San Jose, Calif.

Mr. Sklyarov was arrested at Def Con, a conference for hackers, on July 16, the day after he had given a presentation on electronic book security to an audience of several hundred. As he was preparing to check out of the Alexis Park Hotel to go to the airport, F.B.I. agents told him and a co- worker to put their hands on the wall. According to a statement by the co-worker, Mr. Sklyarov laughed, thinking the F.B.I. agents were part of a bad joke, because the presence of federal agents is a longrunning theme at the counterculture Def Con convention.

Thor Swift for The New York Times
Dmitri Sklyarov was arrested last month at a conference for hackers.

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He spent three weeks in captivity as he was being transferred from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City to San Jose, where Adobe is based.

"I can't say I was depressed or panicked," he said yesterday. "I was curious that I was in such a situation, because I never considered I would be in jail in anytime of my life."

He did say he misses his wife, Oksana, and his two children, ages 2 and 4 months.

"My children both are very little," he said. "I don't know if they understand what happened."

Released on $50,000 bond on Monday, Mr. Sklyarov, as a condition of his release, went to live in Cupertino with Serguei Osokine, a Russian- American software engineer who agreed to be Mr. Sklyarov's custodian. Other conditions include limiting travel to the northern district of California and checking in with a court monitor.

His next court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 23.

For the time being, he spends most of his free time meeting with his lawyers.

At his lawyer's office in San Francisco yesterday, Mr. Sklyarov was prevented from discussing the specifics of the arrest or his work at ElcomSoft, his Moscow-based employer where he worked for more than a year. But he did speak of his life in Russia.

He said he had long been interested in math, computers and cryptography. He was born in Moscow in 1974 to two computer engineers and studied math intensively in high school before attending Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

His work on electronic book security started as an academic interest that was a result of the process of elimination. DVD's, a much more popular digital medium that has also attracted the attention of cryptographers, would seem a more obvious candidate for security research. But e-books were easier to obtain in Russia.

The title of his graduate dissertation is "Methods of Testing E-book Security: How Secure Is Your Book."

"E-books is just one application of security," he said. "It's not special. It's not the aim of my life."

But Adobe sees that security as critical to its economic future. It approached the F.B.I. after asking ElcomSoft to stop selling its Advanced eBook Processor.

The federal government continues to pursue the case, despite the fact that Adobe later pulled its support of the prosecution.

The arrest has made Mr. Sklyarov a rallying point for critics of the copyright act. He has been the subject of songs and opinion pieces. Web sites and e-mail lists monitor Mr. Sklyarov's situation. Demonstrators have protested in dozens of cities across the United States and even in Moscow with photographs of Mr. Sklyarov.

"When I was released I was impressed with the scale of the movement, of how many people were involved," Mr. Sklyarov said.

A few dozen supporters attended his Monday bail hearing, including one who e-mailed a dispatch from his personal digital assistant around the world.

Mr. Sklyarov says he has been struck by the level of organizing among his supporters.

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