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Sklyarov gets US visa -DMCA trial to kick off

Cause célèbre

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The first criminal prosecution under the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act is to begin in San Jose next week after a visa was finally granted to Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov and Alex Katalov, the chief executive of his former employers ElcomSoft.

US District Judge Ronald M. Whyte was informed during a pre-trial hearing on Monday that the Immigration and Naturalisation Service had granted special visas for that pair, clearing the way for the commencement of the keenly awaited trial, according to newswire reports.

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, copies of legitimately purchased electronic books or (the prosecution argues) bootlegs.

ElcomSoft's Advanced eBook Processor is legal in Russia and 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 which allowed him to return to Russia in exchange for testifying in any case against ElcomSoft.

That agreement was placed in jeopardy, and the trial postponed from last month, when the State Department initially refused to issue visa to Sklyarov and Katalov.

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 are 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. ®

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