Yesterday, a European computer scientist in an open letter asked his academic conference to pick a non-U.S. site, as he no longer felt safe entering American territory to present his work. Today, a Russian programmer sits in federal prison for doing just that: daring to enter the U.S. to deliver a paper on the (in)security of the Adobe eBook format.
It used to be that this was what America was about: Ralph Nader in "Unsafe At Any Speed" showed how, in the Land Of The Free, a little guy armed with a lot of truth could bring down even the mightiest of American corporations. Dmitry Sklyarov enters his eighth day imprisoned today, [Tuesday] yearning for the land where *he* can be free. Not America.
Isn't it ironic that the birthplace of public libraries would be the first country in the world to destroy them? That even as our president is touting increased globalization as the way to bring "the freedoms of Americans" abroad that we would be hard at work abolishing those freedoms for our future? But that is exactly what is happening. Dmitry should be raised up as America's next Patrick Henry, idealist and soldier for all that is Right and Free. But this time we're chosing to hang him with dispatch.
Fast forward fifty years: the only books are electronic books, the only video is digital TV, the only music is delivered over the net in a stream of ones and zeros. You're the parent of a small child. You can't read aloud to him: that used to be fair use, no longer. Your license explicitly prohibits it. Your older child is doing a project on Steven King's last great novel, his 1,500th. In the old days, you'd help him cut out his favorite gory illustrations from photocopies of the pages, label them with memorable quotes and passages from the book, and then thumb-tack the whole to blood-red foamcore. But today, in 2051, all you're left with is the foam core. King's last work was released electronically, of course, so you could read it on the subway or wherever you happened to be, and the digital analog of the photocopier has long been banned. In fact, kids these days can't imagine how dead trees publishers ever managed to make any money -- they don't really believe you when you tell them there was a copier in every library. But there are few libraries now, either. They lost their relevance when they were unable to loan copies of any book published less than 20 years ago -- when the publishers started converting to electronic book formats in earnest. Why, you couldn't even read the electronic books *in* the library, much less *borrow* them --- no one but licensed library staff could read the libraries' electronic aquisitions, and what was the point of that? There were rumors that a Russian programmer had once written a program which would have saved the libraries. But such things aren't talked about anymore. And certainly such thoughts weren't to be entrusted to the Net.
Dmitry Sklyarov ought to be canonized the first saint of the digital generation! He and others like him are our defense against this dystopian future --- as long as Dmitry is in jail, freedom has fled America. His jailers are the same as those who will remove your ability to make photocopies of your kid making the front page to send to your family, your ability to record a TV show to watch later, to make mix tapes of your music, and tapes for your car, to fast-forward through commericals, engage in parody, and lend textbooks to a friend.
Release Dmitry, repeal the DMCA, and restore America as freedom's beacon and haven in the world! May we put this episode behind us, right our wrongs, and never again make this country one in which those who speak are afraid to enter.