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ElcomSoft Not Guilty in DMCA Case

A San Jose, California jury on Tuesday cleared software firm ElcomSoft of charges it violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with its program that cracks the copyright protections in Adobe Systems eBooks.

The landmark decision, which comes after a week of deliberations, clears ElcomSoft of five counts of criminal violations of the controversial DMCA in one of the most closely-watched cases in the technology sector. Officials from ElcomSoft could not be reached at press time for a reaction to the ruling.

The jury in the San Jose federal court reportedly spent the early part of Tuesday going over the testimony from Dmitry Sklyarov, the Russian programmer at the center of the case, before rendering its verdict. Reports say the jurors requested the actual text of the DMCA from the trial judge but this was denied with the judge offering to clarify sections of the Act for the jury.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that ElcomSoft continued to sell the offending program, the Advanced eBook Processor, after Adobe officials warned the Moscow-based firm that the software violated the criminal provisions of the DMCA. But Ryan Dewell, director of technical services for a Washington-based reseller of ElcomSoft products, countered that sales of the program were quickly stopped after Adobe sent its notice to ElcomSoft.

Prior to the case being turned over to the jury last week, Dewell testified that Alex Katalov, president of ElcomSoft, requested that resellers stop marketing the program within the five-day period demanded by Adobe. A second version of the program with a separate product code was listed for a few days beyond the five-day period but Dewell said that version was pulled as soon as it was discovered.

Privacy rights advocates welcomed the ruling and called on Adobe to issue an apology to Sklyarov for the time he spent in jail.

Security professional Richard Smith, who runs ComputerBytesMan.com, told internetnews.com the ruling was a "big victory" for those opposed to the controversial law.

"This is a big victory. Break out the champagne. Personally, I think it's great news. It was outrageous that Sklyarov had to serve time in jail and I think that Adobe, as a minimum, owes him an apology for his jail time," Smith added. He argued that the U.S government should never have been involved in prosecuting ElcomSoft, a move that was akin to Adobe using taxpayers' money to fight its battle.

"This case boiled down to the issue of willful violation (of the law) and that's where I think the jury did a really good job. I think it was a very good, very appropriate ruling," he added.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation joined Smith in welcoming the not guilty verdict. "Today's jury verdict sends a strong message to federal prosecutors who believe that tool makers should be thrown in jail just because a copyright owner doesn't like the tools they build," said EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann.

"We have said from the beginning that Dmitry Sklyarov, Elcomsoft, and technologists like them are not pirates, and today a jury agreed," he added.

The charges against ElcomSoft stem from the arrest of programmer Dmitry Sklyarov at the 2001 DefCon conference in Las Vegas for selling the cracking software, which Sklyarov wrote. Last August, Sklyarov and Elcomsoft were indicted for violating U.S law.