Students who sued Diebold Election Systems won their case against the voting machine maker on Thursday after a judge ruled that the company had misused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and ordered the company to pay damages and fees. Lawyers for the students call the move a victory for free speech.
A judge for the California district court ruled that the company knowingly misrepresented that the students had infringed the company's copyright and ordered the company to pay damages and fees to two students and a nonprofit internet service provider, Online Policy Group.
Last October, students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania posted copies and links to some 13,000 internal Diebold company memos that an anonymous source had leaked to Wired News. The memos suggested that the company was aware of security flaws in its voting system when it sold the system to states.
Diebold sent several cease-and-desist letters to the students and threatened them with litigation, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. Online Policy Group was also threatened after someone posted a link to the memos on a website hosted by the ISP. Diebold said the memos were stolen from a company server and that posting them or even linking to them violated the copyright law.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which took on the case for the Online Policy Group, argued that the memos were an important part of the public debate on electronic voting systems.
After a slew of bad publicity criticizing their strong-arm tactics, Diebold backed down and withdrew its legal threats in December, but a spokesman said at the time that no one should interpret the move as implying that the DMCA did not apply in the case.
"We've simply chosen not to pursue copyright infringement in this matter," spokesman David Bear told Wired News.
But the California district court judge ruled otherwise.