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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Programmers Cautioned On Dangers of U.S. Law

Russia warned its computer experts Friday of the dangers of visiting the United States after a Russian software designer was arrested there for violating a controversial new law.

In July, Dmitry Sklyarov became the first person to be arrested on charges of selling technology designed to circumvent a 1998 U.S. copyright protection law. Formally arraigned on Thursday, he faces up to 25 years in jail if convicted.

"We want to point out to all Russian specialists cooperating with U.S. firms in computer programming and software design that, whatever the outcome of Sklyarov's case, they may fall under the jurisdiction of the 1998 act in the territory of the United States," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which upholds copyright protection in computer and electronic programs, has sparked controversy among legal experts, although many U.S. businesses favor it.

Sklyarov's arrest and arraignment have provoked outrage in this country's programming industry.

Programmers from St. Petersburg to Novosibirsk are talking about the charges brought against Sklyarov, a 26-year-old Moscovite arrested in Las Vegas after he spoke about his program, which lets readers disable encryption software for electronic books. His employer, Moscow-based ElcomSoft, also faces charges.

In Moscow on Thursday, the day Sklyarov was arraigned in San Jose, California, a group of protestors tried to march in front of the U.S. Embassy but were stopped by the police.

"It's rubbish," said Gregory Nickonov, the chief technical officer for Actis Systems, an e-business services concern that provides technical help to companies. "Most people in the IT and software industries in Russia have begun to think U.S. law is crazy. It's the same as buying a loaf of bread and when you find the middle isn't baked, you come back to show the baker and get put in jail."

People here say they are angry, mainly because they think Sklyarov was singled out unjustly. And whatever the outcome of the case, they say, the arrest has already hurt Russia's image, reinforcing the stereotypes associated with this country's programming industry.

"The image of Russian programmers now has a new negative side," said Natalya Kaspersky, chief executive of Kaspersky Lab, Russia's leading anti-virus software company.

Even before the Sklyarov case, Russia was battling an image as a center of software pirating. After the Soviet Union collapsed and wages fell, Russia plunged into an economic free-fall and pirating flourished. Today, street-side shops are packed with a wide array of pirated software.

"Cracking and getting around things is a huge industry here ? for 10 or 15 bucks you can get anything that's out there," said one Western manager of an American software company employing Russian programmers in St. Petersburg, who insisted on anonymity.

ElcomSoft is one of the few Russian companies that creates commercial software products for marketing outside the country.

Created in 1990, ElcomSoft began by writing software on order from companies like Hyundai and Visa International. By 1996, the company's founders ? two brothers, Alexander and Vladimir Katalov ? steered the business away from fulfilling orders for large corporations and began work on their own software. Now they sell products like software that bypasses lost passwords.

"We decided it's better to try to create our own programs ? that's more interesting, more alive," Alexander Katalov said by phone from California, where he is participating in the legal proceedings with Sklyarov.

The company employs about 20 programmers, who work from their homes in different cities in Russia. (NYT, Reuters)