Cybernaut 

Another scapegoat

In last week’s Pique, I told the story of 18-year-old Jeffrey Parson of small-town Minnesota, a computer enthusiast who was dumb enough to replicate the Blaster virus, and leave his name all over it before re-releasing it onto the Web. Obviously he didn’t know much about computers, otherwise they wouldn’t have caught him so darn quickly – most virus and worm programmers are never caught at all.

Despite the fact that he was obviously not a threat, and his version of the virus had a minimal impact, Parson is going to be prosecuted – some say persecuted – to the full extent of the law. He was easy pickings for authorities that have met one frustration after another in trying to curb the onslaught of viruses on the Web by going after the offenders.

Some say he is a criminal and should be treated as such. Others say he is a scapegoat, and that the authorities are making an example out of the wrong guy. Now it’s in the court’s hands.

Which brings us to the next cyber-scapegoat du jour, a 12-year-old New York girl who was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for illegally swapping copyrighted songs.

Literally tens of millions of people have used file services to illegally download and trade music in the past five years as peer-to-peer file sharing programs took off. I know people with entire hard drives packed with MP3s who use programs like Kazaa, WinMX and LimeWire. Even me, someone who genuinely doesn’t like the idea of stealing music, has probably downloaded more songs than 12-year-old Brianna Lahara.

Yet she was among the first people targetted in a slew of 260 lawsuits launched by the RIAA against file swappers.

She was surprised when she was informed by her Internet supplier that she was being named in the suit. She had paid for a subscriber-based Kazaa service, and assumed that the payment entitled her to download all the music she wanted – nobody tried to stop.

It may seem a little naïve, but she’s 12 years old for Cripe’s sake. And her mother? Well, let’s just say the Internet is still kind of new and foreign to many people in their late 30s and 40s, so she’s pretty much off the hook in my books.

Rather than go through a lawsuit that could have cost her as much as $10,000 a song, Brianna settled out of court for $2,000 – about $2 a song.

Outraged by the RIAA’s decision to take $2,000 from a single mom and her daughter, radio stations and Internet music services have come to her rescue with offers to pay off the cash. That offer isn’t open to the other 259 music swappers targetted in the lawsuit.

You can understand where the music industry is coming from. In the past few years the industry has watched sales drop a full 31 per cent, and has been reduced to going after individuals in order to scare off other file swappers – individuals generally have less money that the companies that build file swapping software, and a lot more to lose.

Still, she’s 12. She’s not even in high school yet. She won’t be driving a car for four more years. She won’t be voting for six more years. Heck, she can’t even be tried as a juvenile offender until she’s 13!

While the RIAA has to show it’s serious, they seemed to have picked the one illegal downloader that would turn public antipathy towards the RIAA, and generate public sympathy for music thieves.

The scary part of it is that the RIAA has been planning this for years, and Brianna’s online music collection practically screamed "12-year-old girl".

By settling out of court with Briana for $2 a song, the RIAA has also set an affordable precedent for the other 259 people being sued that probably won’t work as the deterrent that they hoped for. Worse, the legal actions could cost them more than they’ll receive in settlements.

A sound idea, poorly executed. Nice work RIAA.

Fall cleaning for your PC

Everyone cleans their house, vacuuming the carpets, sponging the bathrooms, taking out the garbage, but now and then a house needs a real scouring – windows, walls, corners, the whole nine yards.

Your computer is no different. While most people are careful to trash what needs to be trashed on a regular basis, a lot of useless stuff piles up in file folders so buried in the architecture of your system. To truly sanitize your computer you have to dig a little.

In the recent PC World Magazine (www.pcworld.com), the editors have compiled a short list of indispensable PC programs for cleaning and organizing your computer. Some are available on a trial basis, some are for sale, and some are freely available as shareware.

RegRepair v.3.9 – Designed by Easy Desk Software, this program is free to try, and $30 to own. It works with older versions of Windows, including Windows 9.x and Windows Me. This program fixes hundreds of little errors, finding and repairing missing file problems that lead to problems using software and accessing files. It repairs registry files, font files and missing DRVs, DLLs and VSDs. Other similar programs to look for include RegClean v.4.1, Clean System Directory 1.7, Tweak UI v.1.33, System Mechanic v.3.7h, and System Cleaner v.4.92c. These and others are available at PC World under Downloads and at Downloads.com by C/Net.

Norton SystemWorks 2003 – Symantec wants $70 for this suite of system repair and maintenance tools, optimizing, monitoring and diagnosing PC problems.

Registry First Aid v3.0.1 – Rose City Software produced this software, free to try, $21 to buy, to clean your system registry of orphan files, and put things back in their proper places.

My Space v1.10 – For $20 you can own this software that improves system performance and speed by clearing useless files out of your computer, sniffing out and eliminating redundant, temporary, or obsolete files. It also cleans your Internet cache, removes useless shortcuts, and cleans system and program files. A free trial is available.

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