SAN JOSE, Calif. – Software maker Adobe Systems Inc. has joined with some of its sharpest critics in calling for the release of a Russian computer programmer who was arrested last week and charged with circumventing an Adobe program for electronic books.
Adobe said Monday it had decided the prosecution of Dmitry Sklyarov was not the best way to enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a controversial 1998 law aimed at protecting the legal rights of publishers of online content. It was not immediately clear whether federal prosecutors would drop the case.
Adobe's announcement came after executives met with members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free-speech and privacy organization that has rallied support for Sklyarov.
Though the organization canceled a formal protest it had planned outside Adobe's two-towers headquarters Monday, about 30 people gathered anyway to complain that Sklyarov was unfairly arrested merely because he works for a company engaged in a business dispute with Adobe.
Adobe's eBook reader allows publishers to sell books online in a certain format but is designed to keep that content from being transferred between users and devices. Sklyarov and the Russian company that employs him, Elcomsoft Inc., have come up with ways around those protections -- so that electronic books could be used in broader ways, such as in text-to-speech programs, for example.
Though such programs are legal in Russia, Adobe complained that Sklyarov and Elcomsoft had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Sklyarov, 26, was arrested by the FBI on July 16 after speaking about computer security at a hackers convention in Las Vegas.
Sklyarov has been held without bail. If convicted, he could face five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
In a statement, Adobe general counsel Colleen Pouliot said it was withdrawing support for the charges and asking that Sklyarov be released.
"We strongly support the DMCA and the enforcement of copyright protection of digital content," Pouliot said. "However, the prosecution of this individual in this particular case is not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved or the industry."
Adobe spokeswoman Holly Campbell said Monday's "frank discussion" with members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation were instrumental in Adobe's change of heart.
Matthew Jacobs, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, would not comment on whether the case would be dropped, saying only that Adobe is not a party to the criminal case against Sklyarov.
John Gilmore, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Sklyarov's case had inspired quick opposition because it so dramatically illustrated flaws in U.S. laws governing online content.
"I think it really struck a note among a lot of people who previously heard about the issues around copyright protection in the abstract and thought, `That's not going to apply to me,"' he said. "But this was a guy who was just doing a job that tens of thousands of people happen to do. They didn't go after a company. They went after the programmer."