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Sophos apologises for going legal on school techies

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UK security software developer Sophos has apologised for drafting in its lawyers after a member of a forum for IT technicians in schools posted a foul-mouth rant criticising recent changes in its anti-virus technology.

One of the members of EduGeek, the largest site for ICT technicians in schools, with over 2,000 members, mostly from the UK, posted a rant against Sophos software on its messaging boards. By all accounts, his posts were rather intemperate. After Sophos took issue with the criticism of version 5 of its software, the content was pulled.

Sophos's handling of the incident, using lawyers and threatening legal action over "product libel", has left a sour taste in the mouth of some members of EduGeeks.

"The general feeling amongst the EduGeekers is that, whilst the individual was a little too robust in his dislike for Sophos, their threat of legal action is excessive and heavy handed. According to the member, he was approached by Sophos to assist in addressing the issues he felt needed rectifying. They then used this rope to hang him with," Reg reader and EduGeek member Graham tells us.

"Obviously the school techies are not taking it lying down, and pencils are being sharpened at a furious rate, I can tell you," he adds.

Sophos admits it might have overreacted. The decision to send the legal nastygram was not made by senior management at the UK-based firm but after a staffer, upset about the language used in some of the postings on EduGeek, persuaded a member in its legal department to write an official letter to the website administrator.

"That was an entirely inappropriate way for Sophos to react. I have posted an apology up on EduGeek's website," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Sophos takes pains to cultivate a reputation for being open with its customers. The UK education sector is a very important market for the firm. While it might be justified in being upset about the posts, acting in a legalistic way and potentially antagonising its customer base is bad politics.

"Sophos believes we have a good reputation for being open with our customers, and welcome feedback on our products. People may not always like everything about our software, but we like to think that we will listen to feedback and act upon it," Cluley said.

"I hope that EduGeek members will accept our apology and won't be lining up to give me a Chinese burn next time they spot me behind the bike sheds," he added. ®

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