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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 13:39 GMT
Court test for US digital piracy law
Protesters calling for the release of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov
Sklyarov's arrest sparked a wave of protests
The first legal test of a controversial law designed to prevent digital piracy has started in the US.

After more than a year of courtroom skirmishes, the trial of the Moscow-based software company ElcomSoft formally began with the selection of the jury.

It is accused of illegally selling a program that allowed users to copy and distribute electronic books that were supposed to be copy-protected.

It is the first criminal case brought against a company under the 1998 copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The case will be eagerly watched by the entertainment and software companies, which back the law, and by academics and free-speech advocates, who argue it is too broad.

Judge Ronald Whyte said he expected the jury of eight men and four women to start deliberations by 12 December

Lawyers for both sides had interviewed 68 potential jurors on Monday in US District Court in San Jose, California.

Free Dmitry

ElcomSoft is accused of selling online tools to circumvent technology used by Adobe which was designed to stop anyone from making copies of electronic books.

Dmitry Sklyarov with his wife and two children
Sklyarov, married with two children, is to testify
The case has attracted widespread attention since July 2001, when the FBI arrested an ElcomSoft programmer, Dmitry Sklyarov, during a Las Vegas hackers' conference where he was speaking about the company's technology.

At the time, both Mr Sklyarov and the company were charged under the DMCA.

The arrest led to protests by free-speech groups and a "Free Dmitry" campaign. The charges against Mr Sklyarov were dropped in exchange for his testimony against his company.

The case is expected to draw much attention as it is the first real test of the US Government's attempts to police copyright in a digital age of file-sharing over the internet and CD-burning at home.

Criminal intent?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it a crime to distribute tools that can be used to circumvent copyright controls on digital products, such as electronic books, encrypted music files and DVDs.

It followed concerns from the entertainment and software industry about the internet's impact on their ability to prevent widespread computer piracy.

Supporters of consumer rights and free speech say that criminal prosecutions based on the DMCA could stop encryption research and other legitimate activities.

The prosecution allege that ElcomSoft's software violates the law because the company knew it was selling a product designed to skirt copyright protections.

But the company's lawyers say it did not intend to breach the Act, arguing the US is stretching the meaning of the digital copyright law.

See also:

14 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
07 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
24 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
19 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
07 Jun 01 | Science/Nature
25 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
30 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
Links to more Technology stories are at the foot of the page.


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