Sklyarov, 26, is the author of a program that strips the encryption from Adobe's Acrobat eBook Reader, allowing users to copy and print digital books. The program was sold by Katalov's Moscow company, ElcomSoft, via a Web site, and advertised as a legal way for users to back up and use their legitimately purchased E-books. But the federal government saw it differently. The FBI arrested Sklyarov after he gave a talk about the software at a July 16 convention in Las Vegas. The government says Sklyarov and ElcomSoft have violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law that makes it illegal to create or distribute programs which circumvent security encryption.
During Thursday's hearing in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., the two were formally arraigned and charged, and another hearing was set for Tuesday to schedule a trial date. If convicted of the charges, Sklyarov could receive a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, and fines of up to $2.25 million. Katalov, as president of ElcomSoft, faces a $500,000 fine.
The case has generated protests, with critics saying that charging a foreign-based programmer for writing a program that's legal in his country sets a chilling precedent. "If you're 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?" Sklyarov's lawyer Joseph Burton asked reporters after the hearing. "I think it's scary."