The sheer volume of copyright crime is foiling the efforts of police
Wei-Tai Lee was braced for a bad day. He knew he stood a good chance of going to jail, not for the pirated software he distributed, but for the child pornography he collected out of what his lawyer calls “sheer curiosity.” Acting on a tip from authorities at York University in Toronto, the RCMP raided Lee's student residence in April, 1998. They found more than 700 pirated programs, which he had been distributing for free using the university’s Internet provider. They also found more than 900 electronic images of child pornography that Lee, 29, kept for himself.
The former student would plead guilty to distributing copyrighted material and possession of child pornography. And on a grey Aug. 20, at the Newmarket, Ont., courthouse north
of Toronto, Judge Thomas Cleary sentenced Lee to four months in jail on the porn charge as Lee’s mother wept. For illegally distributing tens of thousands of dollars of software, which included major titles from Microsoft Corp., Adobe Systems Inc. and Corel Corp., Cleary fined Lee $ 1,200. The fine was a major disappointment for Michael Eisen, director of law and corporate affairs at Microsoft Canada. “We obviously don’t see eye to eye with the judge,” he said.
Anti-piracy advocates have been pressing for tougher penalties in such cases. Last month, the federal government took some action, enacting amendments to the Copyright Act that provide the owners of intellectual property greater legal redress in civil law. The new remedies include provisions for damages of up to $20,000 per pirated piece of software. In the past, says Allan Steel, president of the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft, program makers had to prove not only a person’s guilt, but also establish how much the piracy cost the company, which could be difficult and racked up lawyers’ fees. A company might expect to recover $ 1,000 in damages, while legal fees would total $3,000. With the new penalties, he says, companies are more likely to pursue a case.
To commit his crime, Lee used a commonly available technology called FTP, or file transfer protocol. But whether
pirates use FTP or Hotline Connect, an advanced program popular among todays Net thieves, makes little difference. When it comes to copyright infringement, there is so much crime to fight—everything from piracy to fake designer jeans and watches, to cloned computer chips and toys— that police are swamped. The RCMP officers assigned to this field of crime spend only 10 per cent of their time investigating Net software piracy, says Cpl. Rick Jenkins, who is one of Canada’s authorities on copyright enforcement and is based in Milton, Ont. He says the force is more concerned with pirated software sold for a large profit. “That’s where the money is made,” says Jenkins.
In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitors Web pages for pirated software. But special agent Chris Graham, the FBI’s program manager for intellectual property rights in Washington, says the bureau has little time for Hodine sites. “We’re just so overwhelmed with traditional Internet-browser, Web-based sites,” he says.
The Business Software Alliance in Washington is the biggest anti-piracy group in the world. Even it has trouble keeping tabs on new technology because of limited resources. “If I’m prioritizing my targets,” says John Wolfe, the BSA’s manager of investigations, “Hotline still falls below Web sites.” Wolfe’s boss is Bob Kruger, vice-president of enforcement for the BSA’s North American anti-piracy campaign. He says the organization may have to take a closer look and devote resources “to busting some of these more hard-core pirates who use Hotline.”
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