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Charges to be dropped against Russian cryptographer

By The Associated Press
12.14.01
Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, right, walks out of a federal courthouse with his attorney, Joseph Burton, in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 4.

Editor's note: The Associated Press reported on Oct. 18, 2002, that U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte had postponed the trial of Elcomsoft until Dec. 2. Whyte was told the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had denied visa applications from Dmitry Sklyarov and Elcomsoft CEO Alex Katalov, who were both scheduled to testify. No reason was immediately given for why the visas were denied.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Charges will be dropped against a Russian computer programmer accused of violating electronic-book copyrights in exchange for his testimony in the trial of his company, ending part of a case that has generated worldwide protests.

Dmitry Sklyarov, 27, had been charged in the first criminal prosecution under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He could have faced up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Sklyarov will be required to give a deposition in the case and possibly testify for either side, prosecutors and defense attorneys said yesterday. If he also refrains from violating copyright laws until the case against his employer is settled, the charges will be dropped.

"Until I'm in Russia, it is too early to say that I'm happy," Sklyarov said in a statement. "But this agreement looks like the first significant change in my situation for the last five months, my first real chance to get home."

Sklyarov and his employer, Elcomsoft Co. Ltd. of Moscow, were charged with releasing a program that let readers disable restrictions on Adobe Systems Inc. electronic-book software. The program is legal in Russia.

Sklyarov was arrested after speaking at a hacking convention in Las Vegas on July 16. He was freed on bail in August but was required to remain in Northern California while the case proceeded. He now will be allowed to return home with his wife and two children.

"With this agreement, Dmitry gets everything he could get from an acquittal, and more," said Sklyarov's attorney, John Keker. "The indictment will be dismissed eventually, he gets to tell his story truthfully without pressure from the government, and he gets to go home now, rather than wait in the U.S. while the case is fought."

ElcomSoft's chief executive, Alex Katalov, said he was pleased that the company, not Sklyarov, would bear sole responsibility for the charges.

Critics of the case have contended that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act stifles legitimate computer research and gives book publishers, record companies and movie studios too tight a grip on online content — at the expense of the "fair use" and "first-sale" premises traditionally found in U.S. copyright law.

Adobe's eBook Reader gives publishers a format for selling books online. It is designed to prevent the transfer of materials between users and devices without publishers' consent.

Sklyarov found flaws in the software's encryption scheme and created ways for users to make backup copies of e-books or transfer them to other devices, such as handheld computers. ElcomSoft used the techniques in a program it sold as the Advanced eBook Processor.

After the software became available for download in the United States, for around $99, Adobe complained to the FBI, which arrested Sklyarov as he was preparing to fly back to Russia from the computer security convention.

Adobe eventually dropped its support of the case after Internet policy groups threatened to organize a boycott of the company's products. Protesters in many cities in the United States and abroad have spent months calling for the case against Sklyarov to be dropped.

"The public was simply unsupportive of putting software programmers in jail for writing software that is legal in the country they live in," said Robin Gross, staff attorney for intellectual property at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported Sklyarov. "It was a little heavy-handed."


Update
Russian software co. goes on trial over encryption disabling
It's the government's first criminal prosecution under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 12.06.02

Previous
Russian cryptographer indicted in electronic copyright case
Prosecutors say charges against Dmitry Sklyarov, employer are first under Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 08.29.01

Related

Computer scientist, ACLU challenge digital-copyright law

Federal lawsuit argues programmers, researchers should have free-speech protections to explore weaknesses in programs and share their research with others. 07.26.02

Critics: Copyright law turns ISPs into speech police
Free-speech advocates worry Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives copyright holders ability to push unpopular viewpoints to fringes or off Internet completely. 04.08.02

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