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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
Programmer denies copyright violations
Dmitry Sklyarov AP
Dmitry Sklyarov: Described as a "reluctant hero"
A Russian software programmer and his Moscow-based employer have pleaded not guilty of violating a controversial US copyright law.

Dmitry Sklyarov and the Elcomsoft company are charged with selling and conspiring to sell technology that allowed readers to bypass certain restrictions imposed by electronic-book publishers.

He was formally arraigned on Thursday after negotiations to reach a plea bargain broke down. He is free on $50,000 bail, but must stay in northern California.

The case has generated international protests and the programmer's cause has been taken up by freedom of speech advocates who have been holding protests against his arrest and indictment.

Cracking e-books

It is the first case to be brought to court under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which bans the sale of technology that can allow people to thwart copyright protections in computer and electronic programs.

Protest in Moscow AFP
Protests over arrest across the world
If convicted, Mr Sklyarov could face a total of 25 years in prison.

The 26-year-old programmer was arrested in July after presenting a paper to a conference on the encryption methods used to protect electronic books.

He wrote a program that allows people using Adobe's eBook Reader software to get around copyright protection controls and copy and print digital books, transfer them to other computers and have the computer read them aloud.

Elcomsoft's software is legal in Russia and Mr Sklyarov's supporters argue it merely restores the "fair use" privileges consumers have traditionally enjoyed under US copyright law.

After the arraignment, his defence lawyer, Joseph Burton, said the new copyright law was too broad and parts of it were too vague.

"I think there are a number of potential constitutional grounds" for the defence, including First Amendment speech issues, he argued.

He said his client was a "reluctant hero", not a political activist or malicious hacker.

Case is 'wrong'

Supporters of Mr Sklyarov who crowded into the courtroom for the hearing were critical of the government's case.

A lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates free speech online, said prosecutors had chosen the wrong case to bring to trial.

"This is a debate about whether content owners are going to be able to control software tools," said the lawyer, Cindy Cohn.

"To be having the debate with a young man's life is wrong."

Despite the outcry over the Sklyarov case, several US businesses support the controversial copyright law.

Software publishers and recording and movie studios say the law is necessary to protect their copyrighted material from being pirated online, where data is easily transferred.

See also:

30 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Protests greet copyright charges
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
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