Elcomsoft, a Russian software company on trial in America for allegedly violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), was found not guilty by a jury in California on Tuesday.
Their product, the "Advanced eBook Processor," is able to remove digital copy-protection measures from the information stored in an Adobe eBook. The DMCA prohibits such tools in advance of them being used for any purpose, legal or otherwise.
California-based Adobe originally went after the software's author, Dmitry Sklyarov, in July of 2001, but backed down after protests by hackers and others. He was held in prison and prevented from leaving the United States for nearly half a year. Sklyarov was allowed to return home to Russia without going on trial, under the conditions that he come back to the United States to testify against his employer.
The result of the Elcomsoft case, however, does not necessarily set a strong precedent for future DMCA cases.
Rather than simply looking into whether the Advanced eBook Processor violated the DMCA, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte asked the jury to focus on whether Sklyarov and Elcomsoft intended specifically to violate that law.
If not for this basic difference in how the jury was asked to view the case, Elcomsoft would almost certainly have been found guilty.
Fortunately however, according to some copyright lawyers, Tuesday's result will still make it more difficult for criminal prosecutors to use the DMCA. Until the law changes to permit the legal uses of "dangerous" software, we won't complain.