Sklyarov granted bail, while protests continue

Through an agreement between his attorney and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, jailed Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was granted bail at a hearing in San Jose Monday and released on a US$50,000 bond paid by his employer in Moscow, according to Robin Gross, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Sklyarov is restricted to Northern California and will be released into the custody of a local man of Russian descent who shares mutual friends with Sklyarov, Gross said. Sklyarov's passport is being held by the U.S. Attorney's office.

The free-Sklyarov forces "scored a major victory" with the ruling, Gross said, adding that the public support and pressure exerted played a large role in the decision. Sklyarov will next appear in court of Aug. 23 at 9:30 a.m. PT to enter a plea, she said.

Sklyarov, who faces up to 5 years in jail and a US$500,000 fine if convicted, was arrested at the behest of Adobe Systems Inc. on June 16 after the conclusion of the Def Con conference in Las Vegas. He was charged with violating the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which forbids the distribution of information, tools or software designed to circumvent copy-control measures. Advanced eBook Processor, a program written by Sklyarov, ran the programmer afoul of the law as it is designed to remove some of the more restrictive aspects of Adobe's eBook Reader format. The software is legal in Russia.

After meeting with the EFF, Adobe changed its position on the matter, urging that Sklyarov be freed. However, the U.S. Attorney's office handling the case has shown no indication that it intends to cease prosecution.

To that end, protests urging Sklyarov's release and a repeal of the DMCA continued across the U.S. Monday in Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Francisco and San Jose.

About 20 protestors occupied space around Boston's Park St. subway station at noon for the third consecutive week.

The protestors, led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate student C. Scott Ananian were hopeful that Sklyarov would eventually be freed, but doubted that he would be granted bail Monday.

"Obviously, we're hoping he gets out of jail. It's no fun to be in prison," Ananian said, but added that because Sklyarov is a foreigner, he'd likely be considered a flight risk.

The Boston protests have drawn fewer participants every week, down from a high of over 40 in their first week, leading Ananian to admit that a change in tactics is needed.

"There's only so much attention you can get to '50 geeks show up yet again,'" he said. "The focus of the next couple weeks will be on media events," including marches, petitions, a presentation of materials to Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and more. The group will also be working to recruit other groups affected by the DMCA but not yet mobilized, such as librarians, he said.

Free-software guru Richard M. Stallman was on hand for the protest as well, saying that he saw the Sklyarov case as being related to the goals of free software, which include less restrictive copyright measures and the freedom to redistribute and modify programs.

"People are entitled to the freedom to use books in flexible ways," he said. Additionally, he decried the restrictiveness of the DMCA.

"Any law that prohibits (consumer freedoms) has as much moral legitimacy as a law prohibiting sitting in the front of a bus," he said.

Stallman sees the Sklyarov case as only one step on the path to changing the DMCA.

"We have a long way to go," he said.

Ananian agrees.

"People are beginning to plan for the future," he said. "This isn't going to be a short battle."

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