SAN JOSE, Calif. - A
manufacturer of electronic voting equipment knowingly misrepresented
its claims when it sent threatening letters to the Internet providers
of people who had posted the company's internal documents online, a
federal judge has ruled.
Diebold Inc.'s letters claimed the leaked documents violated its
copyrights under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and demanded that
they be removed immediately. But the same law bars making threats when
the copyright holder knows no infringement occurred.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel issued a summary
judgment in favor two Swarthmore college students, who posted the
material, and their Internet provider Online Privacy Group, which
declined to comply with Diebold's demands.
They sued Diebold in November 2003, seeking $5,185.50 in damages and
attorneys' fees. Fogel will determine the amount of damages to be
awarded at a later time.
"This decision is a victory for free speech and for transparency in
discussions of electronic voting technology," said Wendy Seltzer, an
Electronic Frontiers Foundation attorney who represented OPG in the
David Bear, a spokesman for North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold, said
the company was still reviewing the ruling and would not comment until
it had done so. In December, the company said it would not sue anyone
who posted the documents.
Electronic voting has come under attack by activists who fear the
equipment is vulnerable to hacking, software bugs and hardware failures.
In March 2003, a hacker broke into Diebold's servers using an
employee's ID number, and copied a 1.8-gigabyte file of company
announcements, software bulletins and internal e-mails dating to
The vast majority of the file included banal employee e-mails,
software manuals and old voter record files. But several items seemed
to reinforce concerns about electronic voting that advocates had been
trying to publicize for more than a year.
Diebold responded by sending dozens of cease-and-desist orders to
people who had posted the documents and their Internet providers.
In his ruling, Fogel disagreed with the company's legal claims.
"No reasonable copyright holder could have believed that the
portions of the e-mail archive discussing possible technical problems
with Diebold's voting machines were protected by copyright," he wrote.
The decision also has implications for people who receive so-called
takedown letters on matters outside the current e-voting debate, said
Will Doherty, OPG's executive director.
"This ruling means that we have legal recourse to protect ourselves
and our clients when we are sent misleading or abusive takedown
ON THE NET
Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org