A 19-year-old University of Chicago student accused of leaking the secrets of DirectTV's most advanced anti-piracy technology to hacker websites has agreed to plead guilty to violating the rarely used 1996 Economic Espionage Act. Igor Serebryany is scheduled to appear Monday in federal court in Los Angeles to enter a guilty plea, as part of a plea agreement reached between defense attorneys and prosecutors last week, lawyers for both sides confirmed Wednesday. The plea deal does not stipulate a sentence, which will be governed by federal guidelines, according to the prosecutor in the case.
Passed to meet the perceived threat of foreign espionage against American companies, the Economic Espionage Act carries harsh penalties for stealing trade secrets for personal financial gain, or for a third party's economic benefit. For the first five years of its existence the law could only be used with approval from the Justice Department in Washington -- a limitation that was lifted in March, 2002. Unlike most defendants charged under the act, Serebryany is not accused of having a personal financial motive -- the student was not himself a satellite TV pirate, and he gave the secrets away for free. Even with a plea agreement in place, that the powerful law was leveled against the teen doesn't sit well with Serebryany's defense lawyers. "We have some problems with the fact that this was filed," says Kiana Sloan-Hillier, one of Serebryany's attorneys. "Clearly, it was not [meant] to be used carelessly."
"It's the crime of stealing trade secrets, so it's properly used when trade secrets are stolen," counters prosecutor James Spertus. "I imagine most people who steal get paid for it, or somehow profit by it... but it's the theft that's the crime. There's no more appropriate statute to use in this case."