CYBERsitter Sues China, Others for $2B Over Theft of Code

LOS ANGELES—Six months after accusing the Chinese government of pilfering 3,000 lines of proprietary code that it then used in censorship software that several international computer makers incorporated into their products and distributed throughout China, Solid Oak Software—maker of the filtering software CYBERsitter—has filed suit in federal court.

In addition to preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, the Santa Barbara-based company is seeking over $2.2 billion in damages, and attorneys fees, and requests a jury trial.

"This action arises from one of the largest cases of software piracy in history," the plaintiff claims in the complaint, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles, "wherein two Chinese companies, backed by the Chinese government, stole approximately 3,000 lines of code from a small American company's software program, and disseminated it to tens of millions of end users in China with the willing participation of computer manufacturers who chose to turn a blind eye to the illegal and otherwise surreptitious nature of the pirated program in order to gain increased access to the vast Chinese market by participating in the Chinese government-led initiative to proliferate the illegal program throughout China (the 'Green Dam Initiative')."

The defendants include the People's Republic of China, two Chinese software companies and several of the largest computer manufacturers in the world, including Sony, Toshiba, Lenovo and Acer, among others. The Chinese software companies are accused of collaborating with the Chinese government to steal the code that was then used in the internet content filtering program known as Green Dam Youth Escort.

"Unlike CYBERSitter however," the complaint reads, "the Green Dam program was found to contain filters to block political and religious content expressing views that differed for those of the Chinese government. The program was also found to have serious security vulnerabilities that would allow third parties to monitor or take control of the computers on which it was installed."

The plaintiff also claims that the stolen code compromises the "heart" of the CYBERSitter software, its proprietary content filters, which has been used in more than 53 million computers already sold to Chinese citizens. The computer manufacturers, Solid Oak claims, “willingly participated in this common scheme both before and after the illegal aspects of the scheme became apparent.”

"They are heavy allegations," Elliot Gipson, a lawyer for Santa Barbara-based CYBERsitter, told Wired Thursday. In addition to the charges of theft, the complaint alleges that there have been "several thousand individual attempts to gain administrative access to all of Solid Oak's servers originating from China," including at least one that originated from within China's Ministry of Health.

The United States Justice department has been aware of the charges of computer espionage since June, said Gipson, adding that he was "not aware if there is an investigation or not.”