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A Russian computer programmer and his employer pleaded innocent Thursday to federal copyright violations for writing a program that lets readers disable certain restrictions imposed by electronic-book publishers. In a closely watched case that pits personal use against corporate rights, Dmitry Sklyarov, 27, told Judge Richard Seeborg he was not guilty of alleged violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Sklyarov is free on $50,000 bail, but must stay in Northern California. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison for each count in the federal indictment and fined $250,000. Alexander Katalov, president of ElcomSoft Co. Ltd. of Moscow, also appeared in court and pleaded innocent to the same five federal counts that Sklyarov faces. The indictment claims that the programmer and ElcomSoft conspired for “commercial advantage and private financial gain.” The company could be fined $500,000. Sklyarov’s program lets users manipulate digitally formatted reading material developed by San Jose-based Adobe Systems Inc. ElcomSoft’s program is legal in Russia and Sklyarov’s supporters say his work merely restores the “fair use” privileges consumers have traditionally enjoyed under U.S. copyright law. Prosecutors said the criminal indictment, announced Tuesday, was the first under the act, which forbids technology that circumvents copyright protections. Prosecutors had no comment on the case Thursday. Joseph Burton, Sklyarov’s lawyer, said he had not seen the government’s evidence, but questioned the constitutionality of the act on which the government’s landmark case hinges. “If you are a programmer and you work for a company, what are the circumstances under which you can or should be held criminally liable for activity you conduct within the course of your employment?” Burton said. “I think it’s a potentially unconstitutional interpretation. I think it’s scary.” The case generated international protests since Sklyarov was arrested in Las Vegas on July 16. He was preparing to return home to Moscow after speaking at a computer security convention. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 4. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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