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LaMacchia Paying High Prices for Actions

Whether or not David M. LaMacchia '94 is found guilty of wire fraud, students, particularly undergraduates, can take learn several critical lessons from his tribulations.

First, no longer minors, you face much greater consequences for your actions. Second, actions that seem like pranks, practical jokes or hacks on campus can be viewed far less sympathetically when committed off campus. Third, telecommunications technology increases the chance that hacks spread beyond campus into the real world of police, prosecutors and courts.

Most importantly, playing in the gray zone between what is clearly right and what is clearly wrong can land you in considerable trouble.

Let's assume for the moment that LaMacchia committed no outright act of criminality, and that, when and if this comes to trial, a judge or jury agrees with that assumption. It almost doesn't matter.

At the age of 20, LaMacchia faces tremendous legal fees to counter the governments actions. Even if some benefactor covers his or jury costs, his name has been put in front of almost all potential employers. From now on, he won't apply for jobs as an MIT graduate, but, he will always apply for jobs as an MIT graduate who apparently had little regard for the intellectual property rights of others. What company would take that risk when it can choose from many bright and eager candidates?

Folks, please err on the side of caution. You have brilliant futures in front of you even if you stick rigorously to the straight and narrow. LaMacchia is paying an enormous price for what at best might have seemed a fun way to play a high-tech game. Don't fall into the same trap.

Steve Spear

Visiting Researcher, University of Tokyo