EFF Cases: Blizzard Games, MBTA/MIT

By Ericka Chickowski  |  Posted 2008-10-13

Founded in 1990, the EFF battles for the public interest where technology issues arise from companies, government policy and legislation. Here are ten significant legal battles the non-profit, donor-sponsored EFF has championed and fought.

1. Bernstein v. U.S. Department of Justice

One of EFF’s bulwark cases occurred in the 1990s, when the government tried to prevent Dan Bernstein, then a graduate student at Berkeley, from revealing an encryption program he developed under an arcane arms control law that defined encryption on par with weaponry. The EFF defended Bernstein in the first case to set precedence of computer programming as free speech.

2. MGM v. Grokster

EFF participated in the landmark case versus MGM and the rest of the recording and movie industry crowd to defend Grokster and other P2P development companies from being blamed for copyright infringement perpetuated by their users. Ultimately, the court ruled that multipurpose tool innovators can’t be penalized for the wrongdoing of their users. This is an important distinction that EFF believes will take the damper off of innovation in the future.

For a more in-depth look at the EFF, read The EFF Patrols Uncharted Online Territory.

3. Arista v. LimeWire

The Grokster case didn’t keep the recording industry from going for a reprise, though. Today, the case of Arista v. LimeWire seeks to do the same thing its predecessor did—hold Lime Wire accountable for the actions of its users. EFF believes this is one of the first to test the Grokster precedence and it has filed amicus briefs in favor of Lime Wire in this case, arguing along with a number of public interest groups that a ruling for Arista would stymie future innovation in the marketplace.

4. NeoMedia Patent Case

The EFF Patent Busting Project is targeting a handful of bogus patents being used solely for the profit of patent trolls. One such patent that EFF and its partner lawfirm Day Casebeer has attacked for reexamination through the patent office was granted to a company called NeoMedia giving it exclusive right to use “identification codes to access particular computers on a network, including the use of bar codes to lookup information about products via a network.”

Any database admin could tell you that no one should be granted such an obviously bad patent, and EFF made it its mission to tell US PTO officials the same. The PTO has already made it clear that it will be rejecting this patent, it is just a matter of slogging through the bureaucracy now.

5. In re Bilski

The U.S. PTO rejected a claim from Bilski to patent the “method of managing the risk of bad weather through commodities trading.” In re Bilski is the defendents appellate case challenging this rejection—one which EFF believes should stand as is. EFF and a number of other public interest groups have filed an amicus against Bilski with the belief that allowing people to patent workaday behaviors will do undue harm to future technological innovation. This one remains up in the air.

For a more in-depth look at the EFF, read The EFF Patrols Uncharted Online Territory.

6. Blizzard Games v. BnetD

The EFF doesn’t win ‘em all. Take this case, for instance. EFF’s team argued that the BnetD programmers who developed  a game server that worked with Blizzard video games such as World of Warcraft didn’t violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but ultimately BnetD didn’t prevail because of Blizzard Games’ end user license agreement (EULA) barring the practice of reverse engineering. End User Licensing Agreements (EULA) are frequently the make or break factor in such reverse engineering DMCA cases.

7. MBTA v. Anderson

One of EFF’s most recent cases had it defending three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who found a computer security vulnerability in the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority fare system and wanted to present their finds at this year’s DEFCON. The MBTA sued these students and got the US District Court to issue a gag order. EFF has been working on the students defense, and though the students were unable to present at DEFCON the gag order has been lifted.

For a more in-depth look at the EFF, read The EFF Patrols Uncharted Online Territory.

8. StorageTek v. Custom Hardware

Another important case abusing the DMCA, this case saw the vendor StorageTek using a very basic maintenance code to prevent the defendant and other computer repair technicians from performing routine maintenance on its systems. The idea is to keep customers coming to the vendor for more costly repairs. Custom Hardware circumvented the measures to help its customer, and was ultimately sued for the action. EFF participated in this case, which ultimately set the precedence in favor of technology users everywhere, who do not have to be locked into a vendor’s repair service simply through the fear of being dinged by DMCA.

9. U.S. v. Arnold

The EFF is one of the major public interest groups leading the charge against the government in its bid to confiscate traveler laptops at its whim. EFF lawyers filed an amicus in this case, in which the government claims Fourth Amendment requirements for reasonable suspicion doesn’t apply to laptops and other digital devices at the border and at international airports. Sadly, the government won this case. This is bad news for businesses sending employees out on international trips with digital devices containing intellectual property and other sensitive material. EFF plans on continuing this fight, though.

10. Echostar v. Freetech

The EFF fought on behalf of a company called Freetech to prevent Echostar from receiving Freetech customer information in its bid to prevent copyright infringement. Echostar said that the satellite receivers created by Freetech could be modified to pirate DISH TV programming. The EFF argued with the court that this doesn’t necessarily mean customers actually did pirate anything and that allowing Echostar access to Freestar customer list is a flagrant privacy violation. The court ruled in favor of EFF and Freestar, a major plus for any business looking to protect its customers in similar instances. 

For a more in-depth look at the EFF, read The EFF Patrols Uncharted Online Territory.