Sklyarov pleads not guilty, protests continue

Indicted Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, facing up to 25 years in prison for violating the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, pleaded not guilty to charges in a San Jose, California courtroom Thursday.

Skylarov, who was arrested after the conclusion of the Def Con conference in Las Vegas in mid-July, is facing charges that he trafficked and conspired to traffic in tools designed to circumvent copy control technologies, an action made criminal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). If convicted, not only might Sklyarov serve time in jail, but he would also be subject to a fine of up to US$2.25 million.

Sklyarov's employer, Moscow-based software firm ElcomSoft Co. Ltd., was also indicted by the same grand jury which indicted Sklyarov Tuesday and could be fined as much $2.5 million. A representative of the company was present at Thursday's arraignment and also entered a plea of not guilty on the company's behalf, according to Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group involved in aiding Sklyarov. A scheduling hearing has been set for Tuesday, she said.

The EFF has opposed Sklyarov's prosecution since his arrest, the first criminal prosecution under the DMCA.

"It's outrageous. This debate should not be happening in a criminal trial when a man's life is at stake," Cohn said Thursday.

Sklyarov is the author of Advanced eBook Processor, an application which decrypts Adobe Systems Inc. eBook Reader format e-books, and allows them to be printed, copied, backed up and resold. Adobe eBook Reader files normally do not have those capabilities. Sklyarov was arrested in July after Adobe complained about Advanced eBook Processor to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The case has sparked worldwide protests in the weeks since Sklyarov's arrest. Protestors have called for his release and charged that the DMCA is unconstitutional, that it abridges free speech and that it puts an end to the fair use doctrine, a traditional consumer right that allows for sharing, trading and limited copying of copyrighted works.

About 30 protestors gathered outside the Boston Public Library at noon Thursday to make speeches and hand out leaflets about Sklyarov's case.

Sklyarov's indictment "just makes us more determined," said C. Scott Ananian, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student and organizer of the Boston protests. Protestors have held gatherings in various parts of Boston for six straight weeks. Their efforts are beginning to pay off Ananian said, noting that general awareness of the issue is increasing.

The protestors chose the Boston Public Library -- the nation's oldest public library -- as the site of Thursday's protest because "the Boston Public Library is one of the institutions that will ultimately be harmed" by the DMCA, Ananian said. The terms of the DMCA could eventually spell the end of libraries, he said, because e-books protected by the DMCA can't be lent, archived or donated, all crucial operations for a library.

The charges and jail time that Sklyarov face are ridiculous, Ananian said, as some murderers spend less time in jail for far greater crimes.

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