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.

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