Should intellectual property laws prevent tech-savvy students and other "hackers" from exposing potential flaws they find in computer systems? It's a question being raised in a growing number of court cases—and although the courts have tended to side with the computer industry so far, civil rights and consumer advocacy groups say that's unfair to schools and other software purchasers.

Take the recent case of a Georgia Tech student. Fifteen minutes before he was to lecture on security flaws in a debit card system used on 223 college campuses, 22-year-old Billy Hoffman found out a judge...

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