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MPAA's uni piracy-busting toolkit forced offline

Copyright violation surveillance suite in potential pot/kettle fiasco

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The Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) has been forced to stop distributing its "University Toolkit" online after just one month because it may violate copyright laws.

The attempt to quash movie piracy via BitTorrent was taken offline yesterday.

A suite of open source applications was cobbled together to make colleges spy on their students' file-sharing habits and encourage blocking. The package was based on Ubuntu, the desktop Linux distribution.

That would have been fine, except that the MPAA did not release the source code or provide a written offer for the code - potentially in violation of the GPL. All modifications to software licenced under the GPL, however minor, must be released.

Transgressing the GPL is a violation of copyright legislation, a fact not lost on Matthew Garrett, a Cambridge (UK) Ubuntu developer who sits on the distribution's technical board. He and others in the open source community wrote to the MPAA to point out they could be breaking the law.

One who contacted The Register recieved this denial, from MPAA lawyer Gregory P. Goeckner:

We have looked into your concerns. This toolkit was developed for us by a third party. It is our understanding that the open source licenses you reference require that the developer must distribute the source code along with the finished program only if the developer modifies that source code. However, we are advised that the developer did not modify the source code of the two open source programs they used. Therefore, we believe that they have complied with the obligations of those licenses.

However, the Toolkit contains code from more than just two programs. According to its own documentation (pdf), as well as the Linux OS, it includes MySQL, the traffic-sniffing tool Snort, and ntop, a program which displays traffic data in a GUI.

At this stage, the waters are certainly murky on whether the MPAA's developers made changes to any of the code.

After his concerns were ignored, Matthew Garrett pursued the matter with the ISP hosting the site universitytoolkit.org. He wrote on his blog: "I did attempt to contact them by email and phone before resorting to the more obnoxious behaviour of contacting the ISP.

"No reply to my email, and the series of friendly receptionists I got bounced between had no idea who would be responsible but promised me someone would call back. No joy there, either."

He then sent the ISP a DMCA takedown request (before and after shots here).

The MPAA was not immediately available for comment, but you can read its "Respect Copyrights Curriculum" for Boy Scouts here.

Although the download is no longer available, the MPAA also distibuted the Toolkit to college IT departments on CD. It was (pdf) punted to 25 American universities at the start of this academic year by the MPAA's "executive vice president of educational affairs" Stewart McLaurin.

At launch it caused a stink among security watchers who said that its default configuration could expose universities' entire network traffic to the internet. More here. ®

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