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Digital Copyright Trial Postponed

October 18, 2002

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ The first criminal trial under a controversial digital copyright law has been postponed because two key witnesses were denied visas by U.S. officials in Russia.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte postponed until Dec. 2 the trial of ElcomSoft, a Moscow-based software company accused of selling a program that permits users to disable copy protection in electronic book software.

Such programs are legal in Russia, but they were banned in the United States when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted in 1998.

An ElcomSoft programmer, Dmitry Sklyarov, was arrested in 2001 at a hacker convention in Las Vegas and charged along with his employer, but federal prosecutors agreed last year to drop charges against Sklyarov once the company’s case is resolved. Sklyarov was freed on $50,000 bail and allowed to return home.

He is expected to testify in the case, but Whyte said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow denied visa applications for both Sklyarov and ElcomSoft CEO Alex Katalov, also scheduled to testify.

No reason was immediately given.

Defense attorney Joseph M. Burton said he may file a motion for dismissal of the case if the visa problems can’t be resolved.

At the heart of the case is a program ElcomSoft sold on the Internet that overrides copy-protection features of Adobe’s eBook Reader software. The features are designed to prevent electronic books from being copied and pirated.

ElcomSoft says its program is not illegal because it merely allows users to make backup copies of e-books or transfer them to other devices, something it says is permitted under the ``fair use″ concept of copyright law.

Sales of the product have been stopped, and Adobe has withdrawn its support of government prosecution.

If convicted, ElcomSoft could be fined as much as $500,000.

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