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06 January 2010, 17:38

CYBERsitter developers sue Chinese for billions in copyright infringement

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Solid Oak Software Logo Solid Oak Software of California says that Chinese developers copied parts of its CYBERsitter Internet filter program for use in a state mandated Internet blockade project called Green Dam. The US firm has therefore demanded billions in damages for violation of copyright through a Los Angeles court. Law firm Gipson Hoffman & Pancione says that Solid Oak Software is asking for a total of $2.2 billion in damages. The plaintiffs are the People's Republic of China, "Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering Ltd." and "Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy Ltd." along with seven computer manufacturers who sold computers on which the controversial filter software was installed: Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, Asustek, BenQ and Haier.

In the spring of 2009, China handed down a decree stipulating that every new PC sold in the country had to have the "Green Dam Youth Escort" filter software installed on it, or the software had to at least be included on a disk. Back then, the Chinese government argued that the software, which it had financed, was intended to help protect minors from pornography and all Chinese citizens from content deemed dangerous for them. Schools and public facilities were instructed to install the Green Dam software on their computers immediately. Shortly thereafter, Solid Oak Software pointed out that the Green Dam user interface greatly resembled its own CYBERsitter product; in addition, DLLs from CYBERsitter were apparently used in the Green Dam code. Later, CYBERsitter blacklists and a press release from Solid Oak Software from 2004 were found in Green Dam.

Last summer, Solid Oak's president Brian Milburn called Green Dam a bunch of "stolen components" and a "miserable product". Prior to these statements, computer experts had found severe security vulnerabilities in Green Dam. In October, Solid Oak Software took CBS Interactive to court because Green Dam had been downloaded at least 31,000 times from the ZDNet China portal. The legal disputePDF, in which Solid Oak Software demanded $1.5 million in damages, was settled in the summer without any details being made public. The firm mainly charged that Chinese programmers had copied some 3,000 lines of code from CYBERsitter and used them illegally in Green Dam. CBS Interactive was charged with being complicit in these wrongdoings because it had allowed the software to be downloaded via the Chinese ZDNet portal.

In determining the extent of damages, Solid Oak Software started with the price of an instance of CYBERsitter, which at the time sold for around $40. This price now also serves as the basis for the new charges. In a press release, the firm states that the Chinese government has handed out more than 56 million copies of Green Dam. With this billion-dollar court case, prosecutor Greg Fayer says he also aims to send a signal to foreign software developers and distributors who think they can violate the copyrights of small US firms without having to face charges in US court. Aside from copyright violations, the accused are also charged with unfair competition, the improper use of trade secrets, and conspiracy.


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