A California company alleged that an Internet-filtering program being pushed by the Chinese government contains stolen portions of the company's software.
The company, Solid Oak Software Inc., said it will try to stop PC makers from shipping computers with the software.
Solid Oak said Friday that it found pieces of its CyberSitter filtering software in the Chinese program, including a list of terms to be blocked, instructions for updating the software, and an old news bulletin promoting CyberSitter. Researchers at the University of Michigan who have been studying the Chinese program also said they found components of CyberSitter, including the blacklist of terms.
Jinhui Computer System Engineering Co., the Chinese company that made the filtering software, denied stealing anything. "That's impossible," said Bryan Zhang, Jinhui's founder, in response to Solid Oak's charges.
The allegations come as PC makers such as Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are sorting through a mandate by the Chinese government requiring that all PCs sold in China as of July come with the filtering software. Representatives of the two big U.S. companies said they are working with trade associations to monitor new developments related to the Chinese software.
The Chinese software, whose name translates to "Green Dam-Youth Escort," is intended to help parents block access to pornography and other Internet content inappropriate for children, according to Jinhui. Free speech advocates have been examining the program's code because they are concerned that it also could be used to block political Web sites.
Solid Oak's president, Brian Milburn, said he will seek an injunction preventing U.S. companies from shipping computers with the Chinese software.
Mr. Milburn said Solid Oak received an anonymous email Friday stating that Green Dam may contain parts of his company's code. He said engineers at the 15-person software maker, which is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., spent the morning comparing the two programs. Similarities they found include a list of CyberSitter serial numbers and an update that makes the software compatible with an old version of CyberSitter, he said.
"I am 99.99% certain that if not the entire program at least a good proportion of it is stolen CyberSitter code," says Mr. Milburn.
Mr. Zhang insisted that the software is his company's. "How is it possible that my coding is exactly the same as theirs?" he said. "This is unfair to me. Everyone is taking my software apart now. This is illegal ... I can't answer any more of these pointless questions."
Some lawyers said that because the software will only be sold in China, Solid Oak faces an uphill legal battle, even if it targets U.S. companies.
"It's not a violation of U.S. copyright" law if the computers are only sold in China, said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard University Law School. "The question would have to be resolved in a Chinese court under Chinese law."
The requirement for computer makers to ship Green Dam was outlined in a notice that was issued by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on May 19, and reported by The Wall Street Journal last Sunday.
The allegation by Solid Oak could add to the outcry over the lack of transparency in the Chinese government's decision to choose this particular program to implement its filtering requirement.
Within China, which has the most Internet users in the world and is the world's second-largest PC market, criticisms of the requirement have filled online forums for days. Some Internet users have taken to mocking it, by using the term "Youth Escort" to get someone to shut up. They use phrases like "Stop talking like that, or I'll 'youth escort' you!"