“Researchers around the world were stunned. A promising young graduate student, Dmitri Sklyarov, came to the United States to deliver his insights about weaknesses in a commercial product to a well-known computing conference. A few hours after his presentation, he was in jail.
I don’t want to belabor this case because it has already been aired in the press a great deal, particularly since last Tuesday’s startling ruling in favor of the Sklyarov’s employer, ElcomSoft, by a jury that was clearly repulsed by the idea of punishing people who make software with legitimate uses.
But Sklyarov and ElcomSoft start off this article because his arrest marked a milestone in modern life—a fulfillment of the old prediction that computer hackers used to utter as a joke: “Write a program, go to jail.” It’s still scandalous that Sklyarov spent time in jail for his non-crime.
(…) Civil libertarians and analysts in the computer field have long expected legal tensions about computer and Internet use to come to a head, but they expected it to happen over something overtly political: transmission of censored content, or software that could compromise computer security, or something related to cryptography. (Computer cryptography expert Phil Zimmermann was under investigation by the FBI for a while, but he was never indicted.)
Why copyright? Why did this obscure branch of “intellectual property,” this private concern of entertainment and software firms, become the most pressing public policy area of the computer field? ”