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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Talks over fate of Russian programmer
Protests calling for the release of Mr Sklyarov
Mr Sklyarov's arrest sparked protests around America
By Maggie Shiels in San Francisco

A Russian programmer who was arrested when he visited a hackers conference in America last month has become a reluctant poster child for free speech.

Dmitry Sklyarov is charged of violating a controversial law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA).

His arraignment has been postponed until next week as lawyers try to reach a settlement

Mr Sklyarov had been scheduled to face charges on 23 August in San Jose but a judge postponed it until 30 August to allow the defense and prosecution more time to negotiate a possible deal.


The United States ... has prided itself on democracy and the land of the free and look what we are doing. This is clearly taking away someone's freedom

Shari Steele
EFF chief executive
The 26-year-old graduate is the first person to be tried under the DMCA, a law that has been criticised as overly restricting the ability of computer users to gain access to and distribute digital media material.

It also stands accused of squashing the existing rights of users of copyrighted material to make "fair copies", for personal use or for academic purposes.

The case is also one of the first criminal copyright cases that does not explicitly involve copying, but focuses on the distribution of a programme that could crack software used to encrypt electronic books developed by Adobe Systems.

Adobe, which originally tipped off the FBI to the presence of Mr Sklyarov at the Defcon Conference in Las Vegas, has since reportedly asked for the charges to be dropped.

It is understood demonstrations outside the company's offices in Silicon Valley along with a threatened boycott of its products helped change Adobe's mind.

Protests

Mr Sklyarov is presently on bail of $50,000 (35,000) and staying with a fellow countryman in Silicon Valley.

His arrest sparked protests and demonstrations around America and Russia.

Dmitry Sklyarov with his wife and two children
Mr Sklyarov, who is married with two children, is on bail in Silicon Valley

Scores of websites and email lists track every twist and turn in the case.

At the forefront of the fight to repeal the DMCA is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF has also been instrumental in publicising Dmitry Sklyarov's case, which Chief Executive Shari Steele maintains goes against everything Americans value.

"We are about freedom. The United States stood behind the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and has prided itself on democracy and the land of the free and look what we are doing. This is clearly taking away someone's freedom."

Unnerving

Among the programming community, Mr Sklyarov's plight has unnerved many.

Evan Prodromou is a programmer for a security web company in San Francisco and says he worries about when he will hear a knock on his door from the police.


Either the criminal provisions of the DMCA are going to be killed, or we're in a position where some civil liberties are going to be killed

Mr Sklyarov's lawyer Joe Burton

"I do what Dmitry is in jail for every day," he said.

"This is an intrinsic part of the programmers job to do reverse engineering, and do analysis of file formats for security. This will hurt programming as a field of endeavour."

As Mr Sklyarov's lawyer Joe Burton prepares for this landmark case, he admits he sees little upside.

"I see this as being an intellectual fight to the death. Either the criminal provisions of the DMCA are going to be killed, or we're in a position where some civil liberties are going to be killed."

If found guilty, Mr Sklyarov faces up to five years in prison and a potential fine of $500,000 (345,000).

See also:

07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Russian programmer gets bail
07 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Legal challenge to US piracy law
25 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Security through censorship
11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Pop goes protecting pop
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