The Case Heard 'Round the Internet The world has not been the same since the case of David LaMacchia, a former MIT student who was indicted in 1994 for violating wire-fraud statutes, or, in other words, for software piracy. LaMacchia made two websites entitled "Cynosure" and "Cynosure 2," that were connected to the internet from November 21, 1993 to January 5, 1994. On his websites LaMacchia essentially gave internet users access to MIT's Athena workstations, which were comprised of many different programs and utilities used at the university. The charges first brought against LaMacchia were for violation of wire-fraud laws, but the case was thrown out because LaMacchia had not profited personally from the scheme.
However, the case has proven to be a landmark, the first shot in the war against internet piracy that we know well today. Current law declares distributing pirated software illegal even without a motive of profit, but the issue the legislators seemed to be pointing out was whether or not LaMacchia should be punished for making a site available simply for the copying of programs. This issue of whether or not an information carrier or system operator should be responsible for the content that flows through their networks remains unresolved. The U.
S. Attorney who argued against LaMacchia wanted the case to broaden the interpretation of the wire fraud statute to apply to software piracy. The use of the wire fraud statute in this case or in any software piracy case nowadays is completely absurd, because the statute was written in 1952 to apply to communication over telephone lines. Thus there was a flaw in the LaMacchia case from the start. The interesting question raised from the LaMacchia case and from all software piracy controversy is the degree to which civil liberties should be compromised in the enforcement of potential piracy laws and restrictions.
In order to have any sort of power in policing the illegal copying and distribution of intellectual property, the public's right to privacy has to be diminished. There is also the question of who should be responsible for online file sharing - the network administrator, the perpetrator or both? The reason the issue of internet piracy is so difficult to resolve is because the latest term used to attempt to define what can be shared and what cannot is "intellectual property." There are so many questions raised just by the term that make the argument very complex. What exactly is intellectual property? If someone's intellectual property isn't bringing that person a profit, is it protected under anti-piracy laws? Now here's my question: isn't the whole point of the internet to share intellectual property? There is obviously a difference between sharing copyrighted songs on kazaa and quoting an author from Sparknotes. com, so I don't think the controversy today is completely pointless.
There needs to be some sort of restriction, but not much. A viable solution would be to make a law that defines stolen property as a piece of digital property - whether writing or a song, etc. - that has been distributed over the internet and causes the creator to lose profit he or she would be receiving from the property. In my opinion, all other cases that don't involve some sort of monetary loss are irrelevant and should not be protected under piracy laws.
Bibliography Hylton, Jeremy. "David LaMacchia Cleared; Case Raises Civil Liberties Issues." The MIT Tech, Feb. 7 1995. Viva, Andrew. "Cynosure: Not a Sure Thing." Software Piracy, March 31, 1996. "The David LaMacchia Case." Online Ethics Center, Sep.