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Cyber Patrol hacker sells out for one dollar
BOSTON (CNN) -- A hacker who figured how to bypass a popular Internet filter from Mattel Inc. said Tuesday that he sold his code breaker to the toymaker for one Canadian dollar.
But whether the company succeeds in shutting down mirror sites that have posted the utility depends on a spirited and perhaps groundbreaking legal battle involving copyright laws for open source software.
Matthew Skala, who along with Eddy Jansson of Sweden created the "cphack" program to crack Cyber Patrol, said he "admitted no wrongdoing" in settling out of court with Mattel.
"I made my political point and just don't want further annoyance," said the Canadian in an interview with CNN.com. As part of the settlement, Mattel agreed to drop a lawsuit against Skala in a Boston federal court, he said.
The toymaker had charged that the duo had violated U.S. copyright laws and hurt business by posting methods to bypass Cyber Patrol, which is designed to filter controversial Web sites.
Mattel initiated legal action in e-mail subpoenas in mid-March and Skala and Jansson removed cphack from their sites, but not before urging computer activists to copy and distribute it.
'Not in league with Mattel, the Illuminati'
On Monday, hours before a U.S. district judge was to consider extending a court order forbidding Skala, Jansson and perhaps mirror sites from posting cphack, the hacking duo and Mattel settled out of court. As part of the agreement, Skala assigned his portion of the copyright for the essay and the decryption software to Mattel.
"My apologies to anyone who was hoping for a long, drawn-out court battle to test the legal issues, or who will have a harder time in their own legal disputes because of my making the copyright assignment," said Skala, a self-described youth rights movement activist.
He acknowledges that some computer activists consider his decision a sellout. "I am not secretly in league with Mattel (or) the Illuminati," he said. "I think what I did already was good for the, quote, cause, unquote."
In an unusual legal twist, while the plaintiffs and defendants have settled, the judge in the case could still ban third parties involved the case from posting cphack.
Mirror sites left high and dry?
An attorney representing three mirror site operators finds that scenario troubling.
"The plaintiff asked for a permanent injunction to affect individuals other than the two defendants who have agreed to this," said David Sobel, general counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
EPIC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued in court that banning the mirror sites would violate free speech.
"The big question is whether the formal parties to a lawsuit can reach an agreement that has the effect of silencing other individuals from speaking and communicating on the Internet," Sobel said.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Harrington is expected to make a decision regarding cphack this week. The parties are left to wonder: Will he issue a permanent injunction? Will it include the defendants? Just mirror site operators and host ISPs?
Old versus GNU copyright laws
Nevertheless, some mirror site operators think open source software protections make the issue moot. The court cannot impose an Internet ban because cphack was released under the GNU General Public License, they said.
Presumably GNU would allow unlimited distribution of the original program, regardless of who owns the copyright now.
"It's just as if you publish a book and gave people the right to make as many photocopies as they want. If you sell the copyright to someone else, it doesn't affect those who already have copies," said Paul Wendt, a Free Software Foundation representative.
One of the mirror site operators represented by EPIC and the ACLU agrees.
"By buying the copyright, I think (Mattel) was looking for an easy trick to close the sites down," said Bennett Haselton, the webmaster for Peacefire.org, a longtime critic of Internet filters like Cyber Patrol. "If they know how the GPL works, there's nothing they can do about the mirror sites."
Noting that Mattel paid one Canadian dollar for cphack, he said, "Basically, they overpaid for that."
EPIC and ACLU attorneys said they were not sure how GNU would affect the proceeding, or if it would at all. And Skala said he settled the dispute with Mattel in good faith and that the topic of GNU never came up.
"I don't know how Mattel feels about this. I certainly didn't lie about this," Skala said. "They have the copyright. Whether they can convince a court to stop distribution, that's up for the court to say."
A Mattel attorney and Cyber Patrol spokeswoman did not return calls for this article, though they have commented in the past. But Skala said he is not personally aware of Jansson's reported settlement with Mattel.
"I still do not officially know that Eddy has agreed to anything; the plaintiffs say he has, but last I heard from him he had not," Skala said.
The two collaborated on the cphack essay, but each created separate cphack decoding programs, Skala said. Jansson, a Swedish computer programmer, made one that is more user-friendly and works on a Windows operating system, Skala said. Jansson has not responded to several e-mail inquiries.
Many schools, libraries and families use Cyber Patrol to screen pornographic and violent Web sites from the Internet. Computer activists say that the software filters many non-objectionable sites, including those of its critics.
Cyber Patrol settles with hackers, goes after mirror sites
ACLU Web Site
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