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

The US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California said last Wednesday it has agreed to defer prosecution of Sklyarov until the conclusion of its case against ElcomSoft Co. Ltd, 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.

Same old story 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 government is aware that Sklyarov plans to testify for both sides in the case and has voiced no objections, she said.

ElcomSoft is "ecstatic" about the agreement, Trummer said: "ElcomSoft is so, so glad we got this. They feel like one of the things that has stopped them from aggressively pursuing their own case is that they are so committed to Dmitry, their top programmer."

With Dmitry free and unlikely to face further prosecution, ElcomSoft will be able to vigorously defend its actions, Trummer said.

E-book security 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's eBooks. Indicted by a grand jury in August and freed on a US$50,000 bail, Sklyarov has been living in San Mateo with his family while awaiting appeal hearings not expected to take place for several months. His case has become a cause celebre for electronic civil rights activists, sparking worldwide protests and a flip-flop from Adobe, which initially supported Sklyarov's prosecution but later changed positions and called for his release.

The government said it plans to continue pursuing its case against ElcomSoft. ElcomSoft is confident that it has not committed any criminal acts and believes it will be acquitted when the case reaches trial, said ElcomSoft lead attorney Joe Burton in a prepared statement.

Sklyarov is relieved about the agreement and plans to return to Russia early next week, according to his legal team.

A copy of the US attorney's office's agreement with Sklyarov is available online.