U.S. Federal Court Judge Ronald Whyte today signed a court agreement permitting Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov to return to his native land after a five-month enforced stay in the U.S. The agreement should eventually clear him of all charges brought against him for distributing software that permits electronic book owners to convert the Adobe e-book format so they can make use of e-books without access restrictions.
As part of the agreement, Sklyarov will testify for the government in the case that remains against Elcomsoft, Sklyarov's employer. He will likely testify on behalf of Elcomsoft as well.
"Dmitry programmed a format converter which has many legitimate uses, including enabling the blind to hear e-books," explained EFF Intellectual Property Attorney Robin Gross. "The idea that he faced prison for this is outrageous."
"There was a tremendous outpouring of grassroots support for Dmitry and against the current U.S. copyright law, and EFF is proud to have been part of such a successful effort," stated EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "I'm disappointed, however, that the government has decided to string this along instead of admitting its mistake in bringing these charges against Dmitry in the first place."
EFF weakened the case against Sklyarov by negotiating with Adobe representatives on July 20, 2001, resulting in a statement from Adobe saying that the company no longer wished to pursue any case against Sklyarov. EFF also met with representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice for the Northern District of California on July 27 pursuing negotiations aimed at dropping all charges against Sklyarov and securing his immediate release from jail.
The 27-year-old programmer was arrested on July 16 and held in jail until August 6, when he was released on $50,000 bail on condition he remain in California.
Sklyarov, who has been living in San Mateo with his wife and two children pending resolution of the case, has often expressed his eagerness to return to Russia.
Sklyarov's case is the first time a programmer was jailed simply for coding and distributing software. The software developer faced up to 25 years in prison under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the first criminal prosecution brought under the controversial statute which forbids distributing technology or information that can be helpful in bypassing technological restrictions. The case is one of a series of cases brought under the DMCA, a law many experts feel pushes the balance of copyright law too far toward the companies holding the copyrights and away from traditional fair use of copyrighted materials, for example in research and education.