Sklyarov Admits to Targeting PDF Weaknesses

In a surprise move, the long awaited appearance of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov in a San Jose, Calif., federal courtroom Thursday didn’t happen. Instead, prosecutors introduced an hour-long videotape of Skylarov’s deposition in which he admitted writing a software program that, in part, was designed to bypass the copyright protections in Adobe Systems’ eBooks.

Skylarov’s deposition is part of the government’s first ever criminal prosecution for an alleged violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Prosecutors have charged Moscow-based ElcomSoft, Sklyarov’s employer, with five criminal counts of marketing software for the purpose of cracking Adobe’s electronic books encryption code.

Skylarov was also originally charged in the case but charges were dropped when he agreed to testify against ElcomSoft. Assistant U.S. attorney Scott Frewing declined to comment on why he decided not to let Sklyarov testify, but ElcomSoft’s attorney said he would put the 27-year-old programmer on the stand Monday.

In his deposition taped last December, Sklyarov said he wrote approximately 80 percent of ElcomSoft’s Advanced eBook Processor program as part of his graduate dissertation.

“The basics for that program were my ideas. The product was developed not only for a profit (for ElcomSoft)), but also to show the weaknesses of the (Adobe) PDF format, and as a practical part of my dissertation,” Sklyarov said.

Sklyarov also said he knew the program could be used for “bad purposes” and that he urged his employers to put a disclaimer on its Web site saying the program should be not be used for illegal purposes. Earlier this week, an Adobe witness said ElcomSoft only posted a notice on its site after receiving warning letters from Adobe.

“After obtaining copies, somebody who wishes to harm can spread these copies. That’s a negative effect of the use of that program,” Skylarov, speaking through an interpretor, said in the deposition.

Chief among Elcomsoft’s defense is that its software cannot be used by anyone who has not already “lawfully” purchased the right to view eBooks from eBooks retailers. ElcomSoft claims its software was developed for legal owners of eBooks to make backup copies and to transfer the text to other media for personal use under traditional “fair use” rights.

“ElcomSoft believed its product to be legal because it was intended to allow some flexibility in use of eBooks by their legitimate owners,” ElcomSoft attorney Joseph Burton told jurors in his opening statement.

Burton also said only five copies of the software were sold during the 10 days it was offered in the United States.

After Skylarov’s taped deposition was played for the jury, the prosecution rested its case. Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed the court until Monday, when ElcomSoft will begin its defense.

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