Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov and his Moscow-based employer have pleaded not guilty in US federal court to charges of trafficking and conspiring to traffic a copyright-circumvention device.

Sklyarov and a representative of his company, ElcomSoft, entered the "not guilty" plea in English during the 15-minute court proceeding Thursday, before US Magistrate, Judge Richard Seeborg, in San Jose.

Sklyarov was arrested in Las Vegas in July and charged with violating the DMCA, even though the software in question is legal in Russia. The programmer came to the United States to make a presentation at the Def Con security conference, showing material on eBook encryption. He also demonstrated and marketed the ElcomSoft format-converter product that can circumvent encryption technology used in Adobe's eBook Reader product.

Back down Adobe, under pressure from the EFF and some customers, withdrew its charges and indicated it will not voluntarily assist in the prosecution.

Conviction on all charges in the five-count indictment, handed down Tuesday by a grand jury, carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in jail and $2.5 million in fines.

The next hearing in the case, before US District Judge Ronald Whyte, is scheduled for Tuesday. Sklyarov remains free on $50,000 bail.

Wisdom Sklyarov's attorney Joseph Burton, of Duane Morris in San Francisco, said: "We were hoping that the government would see the wisdom and justice in not pursuing a case against Sklyarov.

"Even if one were to ignore the serious legal questions involving the DMCA, this case hardly cries out for criminal prosecution. Sklyarov's and ElcomSoft's actions are not conduct that Congress intended to criminalize. We will vigorously contest these charges."

This is the first criminal prosecution under the 1998 US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Electronic Freedom Foundation and other civil-liberties organizations have been vocal in their opposition to the handling of this case and to the law itself, which makes it a crime to traffic information, tools, or software designed to circumvent copyright controls.

Cindy Cohn, EFF's legal director, said: "Dmitry has programmed a format converter that has many legitimate uses, including enabling the blind to hear eBooks.

"The idea that he faces prison for this is outrageous. The EFF will support Dmitry through the end of this ordeal."