How the MPAA’s University Toolkit got taken down

December 9, 2007 at 7:24 pm | Posted in xubuntu | 1 Comment
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It all started with an article on the Washington Post blog on a new software “toolkit” by the Motion Picture Association of America. According to the article, the MPAA was urging some of the nation’s largest universities to deploy custom software designed to pinpoint students who may be using the schools’ networks to illegally download pirated movies.

One word in a paragraph in that article raised some eyebrows in #xubuntu-devel (an IRC channel) though:

First, an explanation of what the toolkit is and how it works. The University Toolkit is essentially an operating system (xubuntu) that you can boot up from a CD-ROM.

Wait. Xubuntu? The screenshots showed the Xubuntu boot screen. Furthermore, apparently the MPAA had modified some of the source code without providing it anywhere, even though most software in Xubuntu requires that programs of which the source has been modified and which are distributed also provide access to those modified sources. If this was not complied to, it is considered a violation of copyright law. Additionally, since Canonical owns the trademarks for Xubuntu the inclusion of Xubuntu’s logo would also have been a trademark violation, since it could harm the reputation of Xubuntu.

Anyway, the article got submitted to Digg.com with a description of the suspicions, where it received a lot of votes and made the front page, which is a guarantee that it’ll be viewed by a lot of people. Apparently Mathew Garret, an Ubuntu developer, noticed it too (I don’t know whether it was because of the Digg link, but he noticed) and contacted the MPAA. Upon not receiving a reply, he contacted their Internet Service Provider with a takedown request. And even though he did not receive a meaningful reply, there you have it: the University Toolkit’s homepage no longer provides a download link! (Though according to the MPAA, they removed the link themselves without the ISP being involved)

That, in turn, got picked up by news site Slashdot (tags: haha, gnu, pwned, mafiaa, tasteyourownmedicine – don’t you love them🙂 ) which again got picked up by several other sites – and again on the frontpage of Digg.

And with that, the circle is closed: Xubuntu continues to do its thing and look pretty and the MPAA can continue suing people without misusing open source code. Justice has prevailed!

Or not? The MPAA is planning on fixing the license violations and then make the software available again. However, would they also solve the trademark violations? We shall see…

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  1. I saw the article on Digg and I looked into it a bit. The Digg article claimed that the MPAA was violating copyright law, which is possible. But the major issue was that the Toolkit opened a major vulnerability to university systems. Xubuntu, to my knowledge, is quite secure, but the MPAA had opened a back door so it could check in and update whenever it wanted. It just didn’t do it right and left the door open to anyone who knew it was there. Very scary stuff. And for my part, I don’t want Xubuntu associated with the MPAA. The two really are at odds with each other, philosophically speaking.


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