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US to free Russian e-book “hacker”

Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov - held in the US since July on charges of violating the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act - has reached a deal with prosecutors under which he will be free to leave the country in exchange for testifying against his employer.

The US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has agreed to defer prosecution of Sklyarov until the conclusion of its case against ElcomSoft, Sklyarov's employer, or for one year, whichever is longer.

During that period, Sklyarov will be free to return to Russia but will remain under the court's supervision. If Sklyarov abides by the terms of the agreement - testifying for the prosecution and complying with all US federal, state and local laws - charges against him will be dropped at the end of the period, said the US attorney's office.

Sklyarov also plans to testify on ElcomSoft's behalf as a defence witness, according to a spokeswoman for the legal team representing both him and ElcomSoft.

"Dmitry has one story to tell, and it doesn't matter who he tells it for really because he's told the same thing over and over again since day one. His story hasn't changed and it won't change," said spokeswoman Judy Trummer. The US government is aware that Sklyarov plans to testify for both sides in the case and has voiced no objections, she added.

ElcomSoft is "ecstatic" about the agreement, Trummer said. With Sklyarov free and unlikely to face further prosecution, the company will be able to vigorously defend its actions, she added.

Sklyarov was arrested at the end of the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas, at which he gave a presentation on e-book security. He is the designer of Advanced eBook Processor, a software tool once sold by ElcomSoft that enables users to strip the copy protection built into Adobe Systems' eBooks.

Indicted by a grand jury in August and freed on a $50,000 (£34,000) bail, Sklyarov has been living in the US with his family while awaiting appeal hearings not expected to take place for several months.

His case has sparked worldwide protests from electronic civil rights activists and a U-turn from Adobe, which initially supported Sklyarov's prosecution but later changed its position and called for his release.

The US government said it plans to continue pursuing its case against ElcomSoft. However, ElcomSoft maintains that it has not committed any criminal acts and believes it will be acquitted when the case reaches trial, according to ElcomSoft lead attorney Joe Burton.

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