Judge Orders Network Associates To Drop Speech Ban

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A New York judge has ordered Network Associates to stop selling its software with restrictions that a lawsuit said prohibited customers' free speech.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed the suit last year, contesting restrictions the company placed on its products that banned customers from publishing product reviews or benchmark tests without its permission.

The restrictions appear on the software diskettes and the company's Web site and infringe on consumers' and the media's freedom of speech and fair use rights under copyright law, Spitzer said. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Network Associates' products include McAfee antivirus software.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Shafer permanently enjoined the vendor from using the following language in product sales and distribution, according to a release issued Friday by Spitzer:

--The customer shall not disclose the result of any benchmark test to any third party without Network Associates' prior written approval.

--The customer will not publish reviews of this product without prior consent from Network Associates, Inc.

The court also required the vendor to provide it with evidence of its sales so it can set penalties and costs, Spitzer said. Plus, the court said Network Associates can't use any language with its products that restricts the right to publish review results unless it gives the attorney general 30 days notice.

"We are very pleased that the court struck down this highly restrictive clause," Spitzer said in a prepared statement. "Such clauses censoring speech and criticism chill not only consumers' speech, but also prevent academics, consumer advocates, and technology experts alike from openly and freely discussing software products."

"Restrictions like these threaten to hinder the spirit of innovation and critical appraisal the public needs to keep software effective, efficient, and safe," he said.

But Gene Hodges, president of Network Associates, said the intention of the company's licensing language was misinterpreted.

"We're a little bit sorry that the whole thing has been interpreted at it was," he said. "Our intention with the licensing language was to ensure that reviewers were using the latest version of our products."

Network Associates had situations where reviewers used old products, he said.

A company spokesperson said the company plans to appeal the ruling.

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