All my life I’ve been curious about how things work. One of my favorite activities is tearing things apart and putting them back together. That’s how I learned everything I know about computers. The process of tearing things apart to figure out how they work is usually called reverse engineering.
Recently, Hollywood passed a law called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act or DMCA. This law supposedly provides copyright protection for digital media. What it actually does is make it illegal to reverse engineer most software. The DMCA has been very controversial from the beginning and has never been used in a court case until now.
A Russian software company called ElcomSoft had written a program to open and read eBook files. Normally this would be no big deal. For example, Microsoft Word can open WordPerfect files without violating the law. The catch is, these eBook files were encrypted in order to protect the copyright of the original document.
Instead of being praised as a clever guy, the programmer who wrote the software, Dmitry Sklyarov, was arrested and jailed as a criminal. Luckily common sense prevailed in the trial and ElcomSoft was acquitted. There’s a pretty good article at News.com about the verdict.