Briefly, Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian national, was jailed after addressing DefCon, an annual hacking and security conference, for violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by coding an application that strips the copy protection from electronic books. He’s currently out on bail. Elcomsoft’s website, Sklyarov’s company, now has pictures of the photogenic Sklyarov and his family, and appeals for justice in both English and Russian.
Now, the DMCA in itself is a bad law. Very few people, unless they work for the federal government, would disagree with this. It’s typical bureaucratic overkill: enacted as a reaction by powerful lobbies to the spread of digital copying of, well, everything. It empowers corporations to enlist law enforcement in their quest to enforce their own loosely defined standards of ownership. Again, it’s a bad law, and it needs to be overturned.
The “war on drugs” is also bad law, but that doesn’t make crack less addictive. And in the age of Napster, today’s crack is intellectual property. One little-travelled, not quite as highly publicized street corner on that bazaar is the traffic in e-books. The bazaar Sklyarov enabled.
Harlan Ellison had a problem with this.
Ellison has been, depending on who you talk to, a defender of liberty, an insane egomaniac, and a really funny writer. Most people familiar with his work think he’s all three. He wrote what most consider the best episode of the original Star Trek, was a creative consultant for what I consider the best series ever on television, and wrote a few other books that I read and to this day shamelessly ape. When he found out his books, sales of which he depends on to pay his bills, were being downloaded freely on the web, he wasn’t terribly amused. So he set out to shut the pirates down, in a tale that, well, would have worked well for a speculative fiction (Ellison hates the term “scifi”) story in ’68. Except that it’s the twenty-first century now, and fiction left the playground.
SFWA has allocated $5000.00 to help combat Internet infringement. Approximately 25% of this was paid to the attorney for the Heinlein estate who traveled to Russia in May and attempted to shut down some of the pirate archives established there which infringe on the works of many authors, including Harlan. Another 20% has been used to cover expenses in this case for DMCA subpoenas, online research charges, special research materials, service fees, messengers or incidental expenses. I intend to request the release of the remaining $2500.00 to defray upcoming expenses, including our continued attempts to identify the \’e2\’80\’9cDoe\’e2\’80\’9d infringers, but I know this money will not go far.
We are still attempting to identify and locate the individuals who have hidden behind false screen names and anonymous remailers to infringe on Harlan\’e2\’80\’99s work and on hundreds of other works of fiction. The individual we most want to identify, locate and serve with this lawsuit is Citizen 513, but there are others.
Citizen 513 was a RemarQ/SuperNews subscriber. We know that he has maintained an e-mail address in Canada called firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, Apexmail doesn\’e2\’80\’99t require the use of a credit card to secure an address and Citizen 513 doesn\’e2\’80\’99t answer mail sent to him at this address. This address is for the receipt of electronic files of pirated works, so Citizen 513 can maintain his list of pirate works and other pirates request files from him. Citizen 513 had a web site with his list of works on Geocities for a while. He also had a server in Russia which stored the actual files (ftp://haali.po.cs.msu.su/enscifi/a.b.e-book), but we were able to shut that down. Sometimes, he gives the appearance of being in Australia and working for an electronic data company (hence his ability to get to unsecured servers) but we aren\’e2\’80\’99t sure of anything or even if he is male. Citizen 513 also appeared as email@example.com and may also have used the name Worlock@supernews.com or \’e2\’80\’9cSwisslife\’e2\’80\’9d and others.
Ellison currently has a legal defense fund to help continue shutting down e-book sites, and a press release he and his attorney issued goes into great detail about his quixotic fight against Russian warez dumps and… um… AOL. Like any good ranter, his explanation is ALL IN UPPER CASE.
WE FILED A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE ABOVE PARTIES TO STOP THEM FROM POSTING MY WORKS ON THE INTERNET WITHOUT PERMISSION. THIS IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT. RAMPANT. OUT OF CONTROL. PANDEMIC.
AOL, REMARQ/CRITICAL PATH AND A HOST OF SELF-SERVING INDIVIDUALS SEEM TO THINK THAT THEY CAN ALLOW THE DISSEMINATION OF WRITERS\’e2\’80\’99 WORK ON THE INTERNET WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION, AND WITHOUT PAYMENT, UNDER THE BANNER OF \’e2\’80\’9cFAIR USE\’e2\’80\’9d OR THE IDIOT SLOGAN \’e2\’80\’9cINFORMATION MUST BE FREE.\’e2\’80\’9d A WRITER\’e2\’80\’99S WORK IS NOT INFORMATION: IT IS OUR CREATIVE PROPERTY, OUR LIVELIHOOD AND OUR FAMILIES\’e2\’80\’99 ANNUITY. WHY SHOULD ANY ARTIST, OF ANY KIND, CONTINUE CREATING NEW WORK, EKING OUT AN EXISTENCE IN PURSUIT OF A CAREER, FOLLOWING THE MUSE, WHEN LITTLE INTERNET THIEVES, RODENTS WITHOUT ETHIC OR UNDERSTANDING, STEAL AND STEAL AND STEAL, CONVENIENCING THEMSELVES AND \’e2\’80\’9cSCREW THE AUTHOR\’e2\’80\’9d? WHAT WE\’e2\’80\’99RE LOOKING AT IS THE DEATH OF THE PROFESSIONAL WRITER!
I\’e2\’80\’99M FIGHTING FOR MYSELF, OF COURSE, BUT I\’e2\’80\’99M ALSO DOING THIS FOR AVRAM DAVIDSON, WHO DIED BROKE; FOR ROGER ZELAZNY, WHO HAD TO WORK LIKE A DOG TILL THE DAY HE PITCHED OVER; AND FOR GERALD KERSH, WHOSE WORK WAS REPRINTED AND PIRATED IN SIXTY-FIVE COUNTRIES, WHILE HE HAD TO BORROW MONEY FROM FRIENDS TO FIGHT OFF THE CANCER. THIS IS YOUR FIGHT, TOO, GANG\’e2\’80\’a6 AND NOW WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Like any good story, it’s not black and white, just shades of greyscale. You can disagree with his suing AOL (apparently for developing Gnutella through Nullsoft, development of which AOL actually shut down instantly when they discovered it had been posted), or you can disagree with Remarq’s insistance that its facilitating of internet piracy through Usenet warez newsgroups is somehow covered by “fair use”. There aren’t any angels. In real life there are no paladins.
Just two sides to every story. And maybe on your way out to the next “Free Dmitry” rally, you might want to pitch a buck in the tip jar of the guy cleaning up Dmitry’s mess.