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The Standard: Battling Censorware

Apr 04, 2000, 17:34 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Lawrence Lessig)

"Mattel owns a company that sells Cyber Patrol. Cyber Patrol is a form of censorware; it blocks sites on the Internet based on their content. Its defenders don't like the term "censorware" - after all, they insist, it is an individual, not the government, who chooses to use Cyber Patrol. This is, no doubt, usually true - though libraries, schools and state-run universities (i.e., governments) have frequently deployed the program. But it is also true that users cannot tell which sites have been blocked, and horror stories abound about sites improperly blocked by censorware."

"Two coders decided to remedy this problem. Eddy Jansson of Sweden and Matthew Skala of Canada wrote CPHack, a program that lets people see a list of the sites that Cyber Patrol blocks. They posted their program on the Web, with an essay explaining their methods and purpose, and other sites then "mirrored" the posts. The aims of these coders were likely many, but making money was not among them. They are opponents of censorware; they were keen that others see the kind of blocking the programs permit; they were pushing for a transparency in technology, by revealing how nontransparent technology works."

"Mattel was not at all happy about this, and it launched a campaign to delete CPHack from the Internet. It first used Cyber Patrol to do this by adding to its list of banned books sites that carried the hack. It then raced into federal court, demanding an injunction stopping the distribution of the program. Mattel's copyrights had been breached, its lawyers told the district court judge, and as a result, the morals of American children were threatened."

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