Programmer pulls the plug on ICUII

Operators of the video chat site and a software supplier take their feud online.
Written by Marilynn Wheeler on
The ICUII videoconferencing network has been shut down for the second time in a month, and the company said Tuesday a malicious programmer was to blame. The man who developed the ICUII software said he pulled the plug on the company's servers after its licensing agreement expired.

ICUII servers abruptly shut down at 8:20 p.m. EDT Wednesday, said Kevin Adair, CEO of Cybration Inc., which operates the network. "Someone just flipped a switch, or a Trojan horse set to go off at that time terminated the servers."

Users who logged on to ICUII.com hoping to visit with friends or family members over the Memorial Day weekend were greeted with a notice blaming nanoCom Corp. for commandeering the Web site.

Adair estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 users were concurrently logged on to ICUII chat rooms at any given time. He said ICUII software has more than 200,000 registered users and that more than 2 million unique serial numbers had been issued.

"Our users are pretty loyal," he said. "They're mad because they like the program. But they're finding other servers" for chats."

In its Web site message, Cybration of Corpus Christi, Texas, insisted the company was not in bankruptcy and that ICUII was working diligently to re-connect users. The page also provided detailed instructions for connecting to other servers.

The outage was identical to one that occurred at the stroke of midnight on May 4, Adair said in a telephone interview. Service was restored after a Cybration sued nanoCom in U.S. District Court for Southern Texas. "What it boils down to is the ownership of the software," Adair said.

ICUII told users that it was suing nanoCom for what it called "ILLEGAL distribution of PROPRIETARY software that belongs to Cybration."

On the contrary, said nanoCom owner Bob Summers, who developed ICUII while working for a company in Little Rock, Ark. "Cybration claims they own software that they've clearly licensed from us."

Adair said he bought the ICUII source code "for a song" in 1997 after Summers was fired by the Arkansas company.

Summers said Cybration has never been more than a licensee.

In a prepared statement, nanoCom said Cybration had been illegally selling ICUII software without a license since its license agreement expired in early May. As a result, Summers said, the company invoked "a protection mechanism in the software that prevents people from illegally copying and using it." "nanoCom made reasonable efforts to resolve the matter with Cybration, but Cybration's hard-line position made resolution impossible," the statement continued. "As a result, a Texas court heard arguments on May 25 and made a preliminary ruling against Cybration." Adair said the judge declined to issue a ruling during Thursday's hearing. Instead, she postponed a decision until June 8.

The ICUII.com domain name was registered to Adair in 1997. ICUII.net was registered to nanoCom of Blacksburg, Va., in 1999.

Adair said Summers originally planned to develop a site that would allow purchasers of nanoCom server software to find other users within the ICUII community, but that deal fell through. Earlier this year, Cybration paid Summers to update the code and purchased nanoCom's server software, Adair said.

"Part of that agreement says Cybration and the company that has the servers (nanoCom) will not cause any outages to (ICUII users)," Adair said. "Yet they still turn them off."

In its Web site message, Cybration insisted that similar videoconferencing software called DualView was not a replacement for ICUII.

DualView owner and CEO Bryan Kidd said his company licensed its non-proprietary videoconferencing software from nanoCom.

"We don't know what's happening between nanoCom and ICUII," said a DualView spokeswoman who asked that her name not be used. "This was a big surprise to us."

Kidd said DualView and ICUII software were not related, although he acknowledged, "We've gotten quite a bit of mail wondering about the relationship between our two companies."

A related site, HookUpNow.com, was developed for gay and lesbian users as a way to sell DualView software, Kidd said.

Adair said HookUpNow was a sexual video chat client and that DualView was a "knockoff of ICUII, all the things I stayed up all night sweating over, trying to make the program better."


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