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Adobe Systems has done an abrupt about-face under considerable public pressure in the case of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, who helped develop Advanced eBook Processor, an application which cracks the lame access controls on Adobe's eBook Reader.

Sklyarov was arrested last Sunday and slapped with a severe criminal charge under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), after delivering a talk entitled "eBook Security: Theory and Practice" at Defcon.

Numerous media reports lambasting Adobe's decision to press charges, followed by several live protests Monday, gave the company a ghastly foretaste of the publicity it might expect if it goes ahead with the prosecution. The PR picture was clearly dismal and miserably long-term (Sklyarov is facing five years in federal stir), so Adobe exercised the better part of valor.

To dilute the obvious inference that it has in fact read the tea leaves and seen its public-relations doom spelt out, Adobe waited until it had sat down with Net watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Monday, and issued a joint statement recommending Sklyarov's release.

"EFF praises Adobe for doing the right thing," EFF Executive Director Shari Steele crooned piously by way of a press release.

"We look forward to working together with Adobe to secure Dmitry's immediate release," she added, subtly taking credit for what the company, undoubtedly, had fervently longed to do from the minute the story blew up in its face.

Adobe was hardly more credible in its statement. "The prosecution of this individual in this particular case is not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved or the industry," Adobe General Counsel Colleen Pouliot warbled.

And just in case you imagined they were giving ground here: "ElcomSoft's Advanced eBook Processor software is no longer available in the United States, and from that perspective the DMCA worked. Adobe will continue to protect its copyright interests and those of its customers."

So we're all bloody lucky the issue is moot; otherwise....

Yeah, right. Five more years of 'Free Dimitry' is the issue here; but we'll just let Adobe say what it pleases, so long as Sklyarov gets home to his family in due course.

One possible hitch for him would emerge if the DoJ decides to prosecute him regardless of Adobe's support, which it can do in a criminal case. We note that US Attorney General John Ashcroft talked big about getting tough with the DMCA only last week.

Such an outcome would be the best of all worlds for Adobe, as it would get the bust that it no doubt wants, while enjoying the luxury of blaming overzealous DoJ jar-heads for Sklyarov's personal misery.

We'd just hate to think that Adobe gave a backchannel wink to DoJ while publicly delighting to wash its hands of the matter, but if so it certainly wouldn't be the first time such a thing had happened. ®

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