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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Noble Chilling Effects Clearinghouse Offers to Defend Your Online Rights 

Chilling Effects Clearinghouse at http://www.chillingeffects.org/ is sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and university law school clinics from places like the University of Maine, University of San Francisco, Berkeley, Stanford, and Harvard University. "Chilling Effects" refers to the deterrent effect of legal threats or posturing, largely consisting of cease and desist letters independent of litigation and usually treading on lawful conduct. The clearinghouse formed to help United States Americans understand and enforce protections that the First Amendment and intellectual property laws give to your online activities. They help you to interpret the legal jargon and direct you to adequate representation if necessary.

Their website informs, "We are gathering a searchable database of Cease and Desist notices sent to Internet users like you. We invite you to input Cease and Desist letters that you've received into our database, to document the chill. We will respond by linking the legalese in the letters to FAQs that explain the allegations in plain English." The project's core, this database of letters and response is supplemented by legal background reports, current news items, and pointers to statutes and caselaw. Most of the cease-and-desist activity of the past few weeks is from private companies asking Google to remove websites that offend them by posting crack codes or offensive material.

Their current weather report on the state of affairs tells a story of academic shut-down that came on as a surprise on September 30, 2003 to Billy Hoffman and Virgil Griffith. Jennifer Jenkins, Center for the Study of the Public Domain, reports that the two students were part of a planned conference presentation at the Interz0ne II conference in Atlanta. The men were scheduled to present their research on security flaws in the Blackboard ID card system and the insecurity of university campus physical security systems. They were stopped by a cease-and-desist letter and temporary restraining order (TRO) invoking the DMCA, along with trademark, trade secret, and computer hacking laws. According to Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, "The heavy-handed invocation of the law -- Blackboard obtained its TRO ex parte the day before the conference -- gave the students and conference organizer no opportunity to appear in court or challenge the order before the scheduled presentation had to be cancelled."
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