Calif. Trial Nears for Landmark Digital Copyright Case

Jury selection in the first criminal prosecution for alleged violations of U.S. digital copyright law will start Monday in a Silicon Valley court, an attorney in the case said Friday.

The closely watched case pits Russian software vendor ElcomSoft against federal prosecutors, who charge the Moscow-based firm violated the four-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act with a software program allowing users to manipulate material in Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE)'s eBook format by getting around copyright safeguards.

ElcomSoft is accused of selling online tools to "crack" Adobe's technology, which publishers use to sell books over the Internet. Adobe's technology prevents content from being copied or transferred online.

ElcomSoft attorney Joseph Burton told Reuters that to convict his client, prosecutors must prove the firm intended a "bad purpose" beyond marketing a tool circumventing Adobe's technology.

"The nut of the case is whether or not there was an intentional criminal violation of the statute," said Burton, a partner at law firm Duane Morris. "The statute requires a finding willfulness."

Prosecutors could not be reached to comment on their case against ElcomSoft.

Adobe had informed the FBI of ElcomSoft software's capabilities, which led to the July 2001 arrest of programmer Dmitry Sklyarov at a Las Vegas hacker conference where he was promoting the technology.

The arrest led to protests by free-speech groups and a "Free Dmitry" movement among Internet activists.

The U.S. attorney's office later dropped charges against Sklyarov, who wrote the program for digital book copying, in exchange for his testimony against his company.

Sklyarov and ElcomSoft Chief Executive Alexander Katalov are expected to testify at trial in federal district court in San Jose, California.