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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Tech Ethics

Last summer, a 29-year-old computer engineer began a 46-month sentence in federal prison, convicted of charges that many resnet-surfing students at Texas A&M could easily find themselves charged with as well.
The crime is digital copyright infringement, and the criminal is anyone who downloads or distributes illegal copies of copyrighted digital media, a commodity that has become the cheapest form of entertainment — it’s free.
Yet the crime is so commonplace that manyw ho commit it don’t even realize it. After all, downloading a movie, a music album or an artist’s entire repertoire only involves a movement of the mouse and a quick double-click. Computer users will continue to violate copyright laws as long as the chance of getting caught is as slim as it is now.
“A number of people don’t even know (this type of file sharing) is illegal,” said Jeff McCabe, Associate Director of Information Technology Issues in A&M’s Computing and Information Services Department. “Part of it is an awareness problem, and part of it is that people just say ‘I don’t care.'”
The government has taken action with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the Recording Industry Association of America is on a rampage against those who sell bootlegged music CDs and DVD movies, yet it is still incredibly easy to get a hold of illegal music. KaZaa, Direct Connect and Hobbes are common utilities used for peer-to-peer file sharing. All are readily available and all are perfectly legal to use. These utilities provide an excellent interface for file sharing between computers on campus and on the Internet as well because of their simplicity. Users easily copy their CDs or DVDs to their computers and share the contraband.
These utilities contain disclaimers that warn against distributing copyrighted material. A user can search for a music file, but it is impossible to discern which files are free to distribute and which files are illegal copies. Basically, anything goes.
McCabe holds that even though copyright violations are easy to commit, there is really no excuse for them to occur.
“You could go out and buy a gun, and rob a place with it (fairly easily). You could copy music and share it, also,” McCabe said.
Yet getting online and double-clicking a file to download does not seem so wrong to those who do it. More than 2.6 billion songs are illegally downloaded in the United States each month, according to musicunited.org, a music industry organization that speaks out against digital music piracy. Music listeners clearly do not liken music piracy to armed robbery.
The United States government does, however.
“According to the DMCA, you shouldn’t be circumventing any copyright,” McCabe said.
Each of the 2.6 billion songs downloaded every month carries with it a $30,000 fine and a possible federal prison stay, according to a CIS information page. Students or other users may not be trying to break the law when downloading music files, but ignorance is never a defense.
How then can people be expected to comply with laws that they do not know exist? Ignorance in numbers leads to violations in numbers as well. A strong push against piracy should be taken if users are expected to quit stealing copyrighted material.
CIS posts an information page outlining the consequences of illegal file sharing deep on its Web site. File sharing utilities such as KaZaa and Direct Connect mention in documentation that users should not share copies of files they do not own. Yet illegal file sharing is rampant on campus — and around the world — because of its ease and appeal. Until some accountability is introduced, media thieves have no reason to quit trafficking in free information — the cheapest commodity in the world.

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