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Judge rules suit against China’s Green Dam can proceed

Back in 2009, the Chinese government briefly mandated that all new PCs sold in the country come with government-issued Internet filtering software called “Green Dam” pre-installed. Officially, the idea was to prevent children from accessing harmful content like adult material or violent video and imagery, but the software was also found to block access to politically sensitive topics—much like China’s massive Internet filtering operation. China suspended requiring Green Dam software be pre-installed on PCs rather quickly, but not before there was another interesting development: U.S.-based Cybersitter LLC—which does business as Solid Oak Software sued ZDNet China (and it’s parent company, CBS) for copying source code from its Cybersitter product and rolling it into Green Dam—Cybersitter later extended that suit to the Chinese government, contractors Zhengzhou Jinhui and Beijing Dazhen, as well as OEMs like Sony, Lenovo, and Acer that shipped PCs with Green Dam pre-installed.

A year later, there’s a new development: California district judge has entered a default judgment in Cybersitter’s suit against the People’s Republic of China, clearing the way for Cybersitter’s case to go to trial. The Chinese embassy sent a letter to the U.S. State Department protesting the suit, but the judge found that the letter did not constitute a formal response. The case is now scheduled to go to trial in 2012.

According to an analysis of China’s Green Dam software conducted by the University of Michigan, Green Dam contained about 3,000 lines of source code lifted from Cybersitter.

According to figures supplied by Cybersitter, Green Dam was distributed on more than 53 million PCs in China, and separately downloaded another 3.3 million times. All told, Cybersitter is seeking infringement damages of some $2.3 billion.

Cybersitter has also released a new version of its Cybersitter product that eliminates all code believed to have been included in Green Dam, to avoid exposing its customers to any security vulnerabilities that may be found in Green Dam.

It’s not clear how Cybersitter can proceed with its claim against the Chinese government unless China agrees to come to court, since a U.S. state court has no jurisdiction over a foreign country. However, Cybersitter does plan to pursue its cases against OEMs that installed the software on computers sold in China, which Cybersitter maintains makes them subject to U.S. copyright law.

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