Feds Drop Charges Against Russian Programmer

 
 
By Dennis Fisher  |  Posted 2001-12-14
 
 
 

The federal government has agreed to drop its case against a Russian programmer charged with violating e-book copyright laws, in return for his testimony against his employer.

Dmitry Sklyarov on Thursday agreed to testify against ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., the Russian software company that sells the Advanced eBook Processor, a program he wrote that bypasses the security features of some e-book formats. Sklyarov will be required to appear at the companys trial and could testify for either side during the proceedings.

The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California announced the agreement Thursday. The agreement officially only defers prosecution of Sklyarov until after the ElcomSoft trial, or for one year, whichever is longer.

The programmers supporters applauded the decision.

"Dmitry programmed a format converter which has many legitimate uses, including enabling the blind to hear e-books," said Robin Gross, intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "The idea that he faced prison for this is outrageous."

Sklyarov was arrested in July after giving a speech at the DefCon hacker convention, in which he detailed the security flaws he found in a cryptography program used by Adobe Systems Inc. to protect its e-books. He also talked about the Advanced eBook Processor, which enabled users to convert e-books to other formats for use on a variety of devices.

He was later indicted for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the first such prosecution since the law was enacted in 1998. Sklyarov has been in California since he was freed on bail earlier this year.

Adobe initiated the investigation into Sklyarovs program by contacting the FBI and supported his arrest, but later backed off in the face of public protests and calls for a boycott of the companys software.

Sklyarov faced up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Sklyarovs case quickly became a rallying point for online-privacy advocates and security experts, many of whom said Adobe was at fault for using faulty encryption.

The ElcomSoft case will next be in court on March 4, 2002, for a hearing on some motions.

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