The ElcomSoft trial ended with a not-guilty verdict yesterday.
The software company was charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but the jury found it not guilty on all counts.
ElcomSoft faced four charges of violating the DMCA by selling a product it developed called Adobe eBook Processor. This allowed users to disable security settings on Adobe Systems' eBooks, so they could be printed, shared and viewed on various computing devices. It was also cleared of a fifth charge of conspiring to sell the product.
Copyright battle The case is seen as a pivotal one in the battle between contents producers and the technology industry, it was the first to test the DMCA in a criminal court. That legislation was enacted by Congress in 1998, and was designed to prevent the distribution of technology that can by used to hack copyrighted materials.
The jury decision will likely have an effect on future cases involving the DMCA, according to Evan Cox, a partner in the law firm of Covington & Burling.
Cox said: "I think this is a pretty significant setback for criminal enforcement of the DMCA. Congress thought it was creating penalties for people who do exactly what ElcomSoft did – deliberately make products that circumvent copyright protections.
The trial judge had instructed the jury to find ElcomSoft guilty if it agreed that the company developed and sold its product with knowledge and intent of violating the DMCA.
Intent As Cox explained it, the government would have had a better shot at a guilty verdict if it only had to prove that ElcomSoft's intent was to defeat the copyright protection technology.
Cox claimed: "In this case, I think you have to assume that a big factor in the acquittal was the instruction that the judge gave on willfulness. It's hard to imagine how a prosecutor wins on that point without a signed confession by the defendant."
Throughout the case, ElcomSoft executives, and its employee Dmitry Sklyarov, argued that they did not build the product with the intent of breaking the law. Rather, it provided legitimate eBook owners "fair use" of their digital content. Additionally, Sklyarov said that his development of the technology was part of research into the security of Adobe's copyright-protection technology.
The government brought its case against ElcomSoft and Sklyarov in July of last year, following a presentation by Sklyarov on the software at the Def Con hacker conference in Las Vegas. Criminal charges against Sklyarov were dropped in exchange for his testimony during the trial. ElcomSoft faced as much as $2.5 million in fines if convicted.