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UK Sklyarov protestors picket US embassy

'Free speech, free Dmitry'

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UK protestors picketed the US embassy today, voicing their support for Dmitry Sklyarov, the Russian programmer, who's been indicted by federal grand jury in San Jose, California, on five counts of copyright violation under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The protest started at 1.30pm - timed to coincide (same day anyway) with Sklyarov's arraignment on Thursday morning in Federal District Court in San Jose.

Around 30 placard-waving demonstrators turned up to shout "Free speech, free Dmitry," in Grosvenor Square, London, where the US embassy is sited.

The protest was organised by the UK Campaign for Digital Rights. Julian Midgley, who heads up the campaign, said the demonstrators had received encouraging waves and horn blowing from passing drivers. No official representative from the embassy came out to speak to the group, but embassy workers were targeted with leaflets.

Midgley said the protest was intended to show the US that the UK will not forget the case, and also to raise the general public's awareness of the arrival of the European Copyright Directive (EUCD), which will be enacted in the UK within 16 months.

The UK Campaign for Digital Rights believes this is a 'chilling piece of legislation which threatens the academic community's ability to conduct research into cryptography (the cornerstone of many protocols used to exchange information on the Internet).'

The Campaign was formed to "ensure that by the time that the EUCD is passed into law, it has been revised to the extent that it no longer threatens academic research or the public's ability to make fair use of electronic books, music and videos".

"We want to make sure it doesn't become another DMCA," Midgley says.

He was heartened by the number of passers by-who were aware of Sklyarov's situation (or if they weren't aware, they could understand the arguments involved).

To recap, Sklyarov helped develop the Advanced eBook Processor -an application which cracks the lame access controls on Adobe's eBook Reader. He was specifically indicted under the DMCA over trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in a copyright circumvention device.

The Russian software company for which he works, Elcomsoft, is a co-defendant. Each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, for a potential grand total of 25 years. Sklyarov can be fined up to an incredible $2,250,000, and the company up to $2,500,000, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

"Given two or three minutes to explain, most people understand one side of the argument, if not both sides," said Midgley. One member of the public likened the situation to the patenting of genetically modified crops.

At 4.00pm the protestors intended to retire to a pub. Good work. ®

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