Monday, June 15, 2009

What's in "Green Dam Youth Escort"?

According to a report from PC World, the makers of "Green Dam Youth Escort", a porn-filtering software system mandated for use in China by the government, are being accused of illegal lifting of code from a U.S.-based product made by Solid Oak Software. The company denies the charge but there appears to be persuasive evidence that the accusation is true.

Let me guess what has happened here: some programmer(s) at the Chinese company, Jinhui Computer System Engineering, copied code from Solid Oak Software's product, CyberSitter, without being asked by their management to do so. It was an easy thing to do and there were no safeguards in place to prevent it. Why was there no strong management oversight? I see a clue in the fact that Green Dam not only filters porn but also blocks access to sites mentioning Falun Gong, a "spiritual", (and perhaps political), movement banned by the Chinese government. I suspect some manager at Jinhui Computer System Engineering ordered the Falun Gong censoring but wanted to avoid being caught up in possible consequent controversy about it. Relations between managers and programmers will have been kept purposely informal to allow for plausible deniability.

Personally, I do not believe in the legitimacy of government prohibitions against the free use of any type of information gathered or composed in any non-violent and non-fraudulent way. China should not ban information about Falun Gong. Software is not like tangible property and should not be protected from unlicensed use as if it were. Information that escapes from official or proprietary bondage, i.e., secrecy, is in the public domain by nature and it would be better if it were so in law as well.

The law is the law, however much we may disapprove, so unless and until it is changed -- or unless it becomes so unbearable as to justify revolution -- I say conform to the law. Even official Chinese censorship must be respected as law even as we properly criticize its wisdom -- and so it is with software copyrights and patents too. I have stated some of my criticism on this blog and expect to say more as time goes on. For the record, let me explicitly state that all my opinions expressed on this blog I consider to be in the public domain. Anyone may copy or quote them freely but a link to my blog, although not required, would be appreciated.

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