Cybergoons: Stopping Software Pirates

"What kind of people report their organizations for illegally copying software? The answer: anyone." So runs an advertisement in the May 28 issue of PC Magazine for the Software Publishers Association (SPA), a Washington-based lobbying group. The ad also lists a toll-free number for readers who want to rat on their colleagues. The association has pressured the government to conduct raids on schools and offices that leave computer facilities unguarded and fail to monitor their use.Although these raids have succeeded in winning cash settlements -- most recently an out-of-court settlement of $135,000 from the International Fine Arts College in Florida -- they have yet to produce a criminal conviction. In 1994, federal prosecutors filed wire-fraud charges against David LaMacchia, a 20-year-old undergraduate at MIT, after investigators discovered that users of his electronic bulletin board service (BBS) were anonymously posting and downloading commercial software. A federal district court threw out charges, however, ruling that the government had improperly resorted to the wire-fraud statute as a copyright enforcement tool.Last year, President Clinton hired ex-congressional staff member and SPA member Bruce Lehman to oversee a report on intellectual property rights for his Information Infrastructure Task Force. The report, called the Lehman White Paper, recommends, among other things: developing an Internet copyright police; compelling Internet service providers to snoop through customer files to find people who have non-commercial copies of copyrighted work; and, borrowing a technique from the "Just Say No" crowd, indoctrinating schoolchildren with the new copyright rules. The release of this White Paper last fall has led to the introduction of legislation in both the House and Senate.In the past few months Lehman has traveled to several international conferences, recommending that his White Paper proposals be adopted on a global scale. And the SPA has expanded its surveillance operations to Asia. In May, working on leads supplied by SPA operatives, Hong Kong authorities arrested two software vendors for possessions of 20 non-commercially copied CD-ROMs.Meanwhile, a bill based on the recommendations of the Lehman White Paper, sponsered in the House by Carlos Moorhead (R-CA) and Pat Schroeder (D-CO) in the Senate, is scheduled to come before the House Judiciary Committee's Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee this month. While Congress had apparently hoped to pass the legislation quickly and quietly, opposition seems to be growing. The Digital Future Coalition, a lobbying group representing phone and electronics companies, as well as various education and consumer organizations, is leading a phone and fax campaign to block the bill. They offer a copy of a suggested letter to fax to your representative at

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