A massive legal campaign against malicious software launched by a grass-roots, anti-hooligan software federation on Friday suffered its first blow as a Beijing court ruled in favor of the software provider.
Dong Haiping, leader of the federation, accused Alibaba of forcing the installation of search software Yahoo! Assistant onto his computer when he visited the website of an Alibaba subsidiary, Yahoo! China, in August.
The software could not be removed completely and caused the collapse of his computer's hard disk, Dong claimed. He also said traces of the program remained on his computer after he tried to remove it.
But the verdict passed down on Friday by Chaoyang District People's Court said Dong failed to prove it was Yahoo! Assistant that damaged his hard disk.
The verdict indicated the breakdown of Dong's computer might have been caused by the use of pirated software, which conflicted with Yahoo! Assistant.
This was the country's first verdict passed down after Dong's federation filed six lawsuits since this September against major Internet search engines including Yahoo! China and Zhougsou.com for using hooligan software.
Hooligan software generally includes such things as pop-up adverts, spyware (which can steal a user's personal information), trackware (which can find out where a user lives and works), and malicious software that may infect a user's computer with a virus.
Li Jun, a lawyer with the defendant, applauded the verdict, saying Yahoo! Assistant is safe software that can be removed and installed in accordance with users' wishes.
But Huang Jinshen, a lawyer with the plaintiff, refuted Li's statement, saying Alibaba modified the function of Yahoo! Assistant in September to be more user-friendly.
"But that doesn't mean Alibaba should not be blamed for its previous misconduct," Huang said.
According to Huang, the verdict was within expectations as the country lacks relevant laws defining hooligan software and protecting Internet users.
"But we will surely prepare more proof and appeal to the intermediate people's court," the lawyer said.
According to Huang, the goal of the legal campaign goes beyond winning the lawsuit, but promoting wider social recognition and facilitating the establishment of related laws.
Huang said this verdict would not influence other ongoing cases, noting it is the "judge that decides the fate of the case."
There are five other related lawsuits in proceedings. The federation has refused out-of-court settlements because doing so would disappoint millions of Internet users, according to Huang.
The current verdict has already upset some Internet users.
"It is so out of expectation," said Wang Xiongjun, a student at Peking University. "Besides hardware damage, what about our mental suffering to see the software pop up every time? Who will compensate for that?"
The Internet Society of China has recently drafted a standard to categorize hooligan software, which is now posted on its official website, www.isc.org.cn, to solicit public opinion.
"The rule has generally included all features of hooligan software, but we are not confident of its feasibility in regulating the industry," said Huang. "It is only an industry regulation, not a State-approved law. It cannot serve as legal reference while filing a lawsuit."
(China Daily November 18, 2006)