Judge sets appeal hearings in Sklyarov case

The case of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, charged with violating copyright law by writing software that strips copy and use restrictions out of Adobe Systems Inc. e-books, crept forward Monday as dates were set next year for a pair of hearings.

Judge Ronald Whyte of the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, scheduled a March 4 hearing on an appeal of Sklyarov's indictment on the issue of U.S. jurisdiction over the case, according to Sklyarov's attorney, John Keker. On April 1, Whyte will hear another appeal challenging the constitutionality of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), under which Sklyarov was charged, the attorney said.

Keker said he will argue at the first hearing that the U.S. government's extraterritorial jurisdiction does not extend to the circumstances in this case. He declined to provide any details about the appeal concerning the DMCA, but said it will involve references to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of expression, as well as other issues.

Sklyarov, a Russian citizen, was arrested in July at the end of the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, where he had given a presentation on e-book security. He was charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it a crime to traffic in tools or information designed to circumvent copy control schemes for encrypted content.

Sklyarov is the author of Advanced eBook Processor, an application that strips copy and use restrictions out of Adobe Systems Inc. e-books, and allows them to be printed, backed up and read aloud by a computer, all features not enabled in the standard Adobe e-book. Though the DMCA makes such an act illegal in the United States, the same activity is legal in Russia, where users are allowed to make backup copies of such material.

Though he was arrested at the behest of Adobe, the company later changed its mind and called for his release. The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California decided to prosecute anyway. Adobe has denied any responsibility towards the 26-year-old programmer. A conspiracy charge was added to the original count, meaning that if convicted Sklyarov could face up to 25 years in prison and a US$2.25 million fine. He was released on $50,000 bail in early August.

Sklyarov's arrest sparked weeks of protests in dozens of cities worldwide.

The DMCA, which is expected to be at the heart of Sklyarov's trial, has been a key tool of prosecutors in other court cases also. It was central to the DeCSS (De-Contents Scramble System) case, which tested the legality of posting code for descrambling DVDs (digital versatile discs) on the Internet.

The DMCA was also used by the recording and digital music industries to suppress publication of a paper by a Princeton University professor about weaknesses in certain digital music protection plans.

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