Cybersitter :: CWD--Howling at the Moon
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 96 13:30:18 -0800
Subject: Cybersitter :: CWD--Howling at the Moon
From: "Brock N. Meeks" <email@example.com>
CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1996 // December 20
Jacking in from the "Your Agenda is Showing" Port:
Washington -- It's a long held maxim that technology is "agenda neutral."
As an earlier Dispatch investigation proved, the so-called "blocking
software" industry, praised for enabling parents, teachers and corporations
to block porn from being sucked into the computers of those trolling the
Web, often comes with a shrink-wrapped, encrypted agenda in the form of the
database of web sites and newsgroups these programs actually block.
Porn sites aren't the only ones blocked. Sites with decided political or
activist agendas, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) or
animal rights groups, also are blocked. Trouble is, these blocking
software programs don't make this known to the user. For some companies,
shedding a spotlight on their underlying agenda, makes them sweat bullets
or foam at the ascii mouth. Such is the case with Brian Milburn, president
of Solid Oak Software, developer of an insipidly named blocking program
When confronted with his agenda ridden software, Milburn isn't shy about
it, indeed, he was outright indignant when he originally told Dispatch:
"If NOW doesn't like it, tough... We have not and will not bow to any
pressure from any organization that disagrees with or philosophy."
So when Bennett Haselton decided to put a sharp edge on this subject by
focusing on Cybersitter with laser like precision, Milburn went off the
Milburn wrote to Media3, the ISP that houses Haselton's website
<www.peacefire.org>, saying he was adding the entire domain of Media3 to
the Cybersitter blocking database, in order to keep anyone using his
company's product from gaining access to Haselton's article.
Milburn ranted to Media3 that Haselton had made it "his mission in life to
defame our product" exhibiting "extreme immaturity," by "routinely"
publishing names of sites blocked by Cybersitter. Milburn claimed that
Haselton may have "illegally reversed engineered" the Cybersitter database.
Milburn has threatened legal action. Haselton, however, found a white
knight. After hearing about Milburn's actions, Mike Godwin, legal counsel
for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, decided to represent him.
In an Email to Wired News correspondent Rebecca Vesely, who wrote about
Milburn's beef with Haselton, Milburn said he was swamped with "geek-mail"
from Wired News' "loyal following of pinhead idiots." Milburn characterized
Haselton, "an aspiring felon" and said that he had confirmation that
Haselton was the "ghost writer" for the original Dispatch article that broke
the story of the hidden agendas in blocking software.
All this bluster over Haselton, an 18-year-old with too much time on his
hands. If right about now you're thinking that Milburn should pick on
someone his own size, well, he's already "been there, done that" and got
his ass kicked in the process.
You see, after the first Dispatch article, Milburn sent us a saber-rattling
Email. His Aug. 15th Email claimed that "your willful reverse engineering
and subsequent publishing of software code is a clear violation" of
copyright law. And although he claimed he was sure he could win a case in
civil court, he was instead seeking "felony criminal prosecution" by going
to the FBI with his beef.
I referred Milburn to my lawyers at Baker & Hostetler, who promptly pointed
out that Dispatch hadn't been the one to hack the cybersitter database.
Further, our article was "protected by the full force of the First
Amendment," our lawyers said.
And because Dispatch only published "fragments" of the Cybersitter database
(a word used first by Milburn in his own threatening letter), such
publication "fits squarely within the fair use provisions" of the copyright
act, our lawyers reminded Milburn.
Finally, Milburn was left to chew on this: "If you persist in accusing
[Dispatch] falsely of copyright infringement and if you proceed with your
ill-conceived threat to encourage the FBI to commence activities... you
should understand that, unless the information you provide is accurate and
complete, you and your firm may be incurring liability of your own."
Not a peep has been heard from Milburn since he received that letter, until
he decided to pick on the kid.
Milburn is apparently operating in some alternative reality. His so-called
"confirmed sources" about Haselton "ghost writing" our original story are
Haselton had nothing to do with our article. Dispatch obtained the cracked
code of Cybersitter and the other programs we mentioned from an entirely
different source. Haselton did nothing but build on the work of our
original story, but never wrote a single word of the article nor did he
provide us with the hacked databases.
All of Milburn's heartburn has me confused. Rather than try and slay
Haselton, he should pay him for the right to reprint his article and
findings. Milburn makes no apologies for his agenda; indeed, he is proud
that one of his major distributors is "Focus on the Family" a conservative
And for people that brook with the conservative, straight-arrow family
values ideals that Focus on the Family advocates, Cybersitter is the perfect
fit. Indeed, this is the free market working at its best. Products spring
up in direct response to demand. Cybersitter fits that model for a
particular segment of the society. You may not like it; I certainly
wouldn't use a product with this built in agenda, but nobody is making us
You would think that Milburn would eat up such "negative" press and wear it
like a badge of honor. But he is too petty; too small minded. And when
he discovers that Haselton did nothing more than run Cybersitter through
its paces, much the same way that a reviewer for computer magazine might,
and then report the findings, he'll have nobody left to harass. I hope he
doesn't have a dog he can kick...
Have a Merry Christmas, Mr. Milburn. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.
© 1996 Peter Langston