Hackers take on MS on copyright protection for eBooks

Legally fraught

Irked at his inability to read Microsoft eBooks on his older Win CE device, UK programmer Dan Jackson has set up a project to improve file conversion tools.

Jackson obtained the source code of a program called Convert Lit (or clit.exe, no sniggering at the back there) from its developers and posted it on his Web site.

He wants to canvass the community about the development of Convert Lit, so far available only as a command line utility which removes DRM5 copyright protection from Microsoft Reader format files.

Jackson's aims, to allow MS reader files to be converted to formats supported by text to speech conversion programs or PDAs not running Redmond's Pocket PC software, have something in common with that of ElcomSoft, the developer of Advanced eBook Reader.

In developing its software, ElcomSoft landed itself with a prosecution under America's controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Elcom was subsequently acquitted, but we feel that Jackson and the developers of Convert Lit are straying into risky legal territory, regardless of their motives (Jackson is clearly states that he wants to develop tools only for those who've obtained legitimately purchased Microsoft-format eBooks.)

Jackson believes what he's doing is legal. "As far as I am aware, it is, as the Berne Convention appears to explicitly allow fair use," he states on his site.

The Berne Convention also explicitly gives moral rights to authors of copyright work, a principle written into UK law, through the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This gives copyright holders the legal tools in the UK to pursue action against copyright crackers, however benign their intentions.

And new laws will make it even easier for copyright holders. The Copyright Directive expressly prohibits the creation or distribution of tools that bypass copyright protection (for whatever reason). The UK is still consulting over how best to implement the European Commission's Copyright Directive (AKA Europe's DMCA), but legislation will pass through Parliament this year. ®

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