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Sklyarov denied US visa to testify in DMCA case

Bizarre turn of events

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Dmitry Sklyarov, the Russian programmer at the centre of the first Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prosecution, has been denied a US visa in a move that jeopardises his requirement to testify in the forthcoming trial of his former employers, ElcomSoft.

ElcomSoft's chief executive, Alexander Katalov, has likewise been denied a visa, Planet PDF reports, in a move that surely means the already delayed October 21 start of the trial will be put back still further.

ElcomSoft is charged with supplying a tool that circumvents the copy protection in Adobe eBooks, which can be used in making audible copies of e-books for the blind, or copies of legitimately purchased electronic books. ElcomSoft's Advanced eBook Processor, which is legal in Russia, was sold over the Internet (though it has since been taken off the market).

Sklyarov was also indicted in the case, and spent a month in a US jail (and four months on bail) before striking a deal that allowed him to return to Russia in exchange for testifying in any case against ElcomSoft.

That agreement, thanks to the refusal of Sklyarov's visa is now in jeopardy, and he faces the Kafkaesque dilemma of been legally unable to enter the States to attend a trial he is legally obliged to testify in.

'Crime' and punishment

Sklyarov was arrested and slung into jail in July 2001 following a court case instigated by Adobe. The California software company pulled the legal trigger in response to a presentation made by the Russian programmer pointing out the shortcomings of eBook security at last year's Defcon conference in Las Vegas. He faced charges punishable by up to 25 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Adobe attracted huge opprobrium for its actions, and in the face of a self-inflicted public relations nightmare, quickly withdrew support for prosecution. However, the Department of Justice took up the reins.
Even though Sklyarov was released on bail of $50,000 in August, he still had to remain in the US until December, when a deal was made.

The case against ElcomSoft and Sklyarov has become a cause célèbre among white hat hackers, who objected to jailing a programmer simply for coding and distributing software. There were also concerns that, at the behest of the entertainment industry, the DMCA was applied in a way which would stymie legitimate security research and prevent 'fair use' of copyrighted material. Civil liberties groups, most notably the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Internet activists have also campaigned hard on Sklyarov's behalf. ®

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