CyberSitter files lawsuit against China over Green Dam

Chinese-mandated filtering software stole code from CyberSitter, the company alleges

Web software filtering vendor CyberSitter has filed a US $2.2 billion lawsuit against the Chinese government, two Chinese software markers and seven major computer manufacturers for their distribution of Green Dam Youth Escort, a controversial Web filtering package the Chinese government had mandated to be installed on computers sold there.

CyberSitter's lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, alleges that the defendants misappropriated its trade secrets, engaged in unfair competition, infringed its copyrights and engaged in conspiracy while distributing Green Dam. The computer makers named in the lawsuit are Sony, Lenovo, Toshiba, Acer, Asustek, BenQ and Haier.

Representatives of Sony, Lenovo and Toshiba didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the lawsuit.

CyberSitter's complaint alleges that the Chinese makers of Green Dam illegally copied more than 3,000 lines of code from its filtering software. The defendants distributed more than 56 million copies of the infringing software to customers in China and Chinese speakers worldwide, CyberSitter alleged.

The Chinese software makers broke U.S. criminal laws governing economic espionage and misappropriation of trade secrets by stealing CyberSitter's proprietary content filters and integrating them into Green Dam, the lawsuit alleges.

"This lawsuit aims to strike a blow against the all-too-common practices of foreign software manufacturers and distributors who believe that they can violate the intellectual property rights of small American companies with impunity without being brought to justice in U.S. courts," CyberSitter attorney Greg Fayer said in a statement. "American innovation is the lifeblood of the software industry, and it is vital that the fruits of those labors be protected at home and abroad."

China originally ordered PC makers to start bundling Green Dam with all computers sold in the country by July 2009 to battle Internet pornography, but it postponed the deadline under pressure from foreign PC vendors and the U.S. government. In August, the Chinese government backtracked and said it would not require consumers to install the software, but installation for computers in public schools, Internet cafes and other public places would still be required.

The software was required to protect children from pornography and other harmful material, the government said, but Green Dam also blocked access to sensitive political content.

In September, Lenovo, Acer and Sony, the last of the major computer makers to include Green Dam in their systems, stopped distributing it.

Other defendants in the lawsuit are Zhengzhou Jinhui Computer System Engineering and Beijing Dazheng Human Language Technology Academy, the two companies that developed Green Dam.

The Chinese government paid the two companies about US$6.9 million for a one-year license to freely distribute Green Dam, and the program was made available on several Web sites, according to the lawsuit.

In June, a month after China issued the mandate that all computers sold in the country have Green Dam packaged with them, a team of researchers at the University of Michigan found that the Chinese program contained about 3,000 lines of CyberSitter code, including the company's proprietary content filters, the lawsuit said.

Two CyberSitter announcements from May 2004, with file extensions similar to the content filters, were among the code copied, the lawsuit alleges. Those announcements constitute a "smoking gun" proving that CyberSitter code was copied, the lawsuit alleged.

The researchers also found "serious security vulnerabilities" allowing remote users to monitor or take control of PCs with Green Dam installed, the lawsuit said.

Attackers inside of China have also repeatedly attempted to gain access to CyberSitter's computers and servers, the lawsuit alleged. One intrusion in May originated from within the China Ministry of Health, the lawsuit alleged.

In June, CyberSitter employees received a series of customized Trojan e-mail messages from sources in China posting as co-workers, the lawsuit said.

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