Sklyarov's lawyers push for plea bargain

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for the Russian computer programmer charged with circumventing e-book copyright protections are negotiating a possible plea bargain.
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor on

LONDON (ZDNet UK)--As Russian computer programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was due yesterday to be indicted for circumventing the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the prosecution and defense lawyers revealed plans to negotiate a possible plea bargain.

In a case that has sparked off global protests, Sklyarov could today face a five-year prison sentence for creating software that circumvented the copyright protection mechanism in Adobe's eBook reader. But on the morning of the hearing, both sides confirmed that they will be asking the federal judge to postpone the proceedings for a week.

"We're talking about whether or not there are any potential ways to dispose of the case," lead defence attorney Joseph Burton told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "We've been talking to them for a while."

The Russian employee of ElcomSoft, a Moscow-based company, was held in custody for over a month after the FBI arrested him at the DefCon hacking conference in Las Vegas. Sklyarov is charged with trafficking a copyright circumvention mechanism, for publishing a program that cracks the encryption protection on Adobe's eBook format, converting it to Adobe PDF format. The DMCA makes activities considered entirely lawful in most other nations illegal in the US.

Sklyarov's supporters stress that he has not broken any laws while in a US jurisdiction, and note that Sklyarov's work was conducted in Russia. The U.S. government has faced harsh criticism for trying to enforce the controversial DMCA--which censors the publication of academic research--in another nation state.

"They shouldn't have arrested him in the first place--if they leave him without charging him, I hope he sues for false imprisonment, as you can't be bound by the laws of another country [when you are not there]," said Yaman Akdeniz, lawyer and director of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties. "The only sensible move would be to release him immediately," he added.

The 26-year-old Russian has emerged as an unexpected hero in the battle being waged over the DMCA. On Tuesday, Sklyarov issued a statement voicing his thanks for the rallies that have been organized around the world to protest against his arrest. According to Akdeniz, it would be possible for the prosecution to drop the case, but they will need to consider the political problems that this may cause.

"The US government made a mistake in arresting a Russian citizen, and weren't expecting the level of protests that occurred so quickly," said Akdeniz. "He was simply doing his job and has committed no crime--he was simply showing that Adobe software is insecure."

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