The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 63.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Editorial Comment Shifts Ground

Last week's editorial ["LaMacchia Case Raises Larger Questions," Jan. 11] on the dismissal of the case against David M. LaMacchia '95 provides an interesting contrast with its earlier editorial ["Software Piracy a Serious Crime," April 12] on the same case.

Last spring, The Tech stressed that "software piracy is a serious crime" and pointed out that "the indictment indicates that LaMacchia knew what sorts of software were being traded on his archive site." It admonished the organizers of the LaMacchia defense fund to "carefully consider whether LaMacchia broke any laws before rallying to his defense."

Now The Tech editors are ready to advise policy makers that system operators (SYSOPs) should not be held responsible for the content of what passes over an on-line service.

Last spring, the editorial proclaimed that "if he is found guilty of the charges presented in the indictment, LaMacchia should be punished accordingly." Last week we were told: "It is unfortunate that LaMacchia has had to endure such distress. ... We only hope that MIT and the government will take this opportunity to consider the many questions so clearly - and inexcusably - left unanswered."

It's worth pointing out that not a single new fact about the indictment or about LaMacchia's alleged actions has come to light since last spring. Concerns about SYSOP liability, about the appropriateness of the government's indictment, and about MIT's response, were just as germane last spring as they were last week. The opportunity to question and to ponder the larger issues was as available to The Tech last April just as it is today.

An editorial staff ready to advise both the government and the MIT administration to carefully consider the larger issues raised by the LaMacchia indictment might profitably engage in some careful consideration of its own about the degree of thoughtfulness with which the voice of the MIT student body should be addressing issues that involve the interaction of law, ethics, and technology.

It's easy to editorialize and to call for blame (on either side). But if this were a matter of purely scientific or technical analysis, I am sure that The Tech would be providing sophisticated commentary rather than mere moralizing. The responsibility to educate the campus, and the opportunity to provide leadership in grappling with the issues, are also at hand when technology impinges on societal concerns.

Harold Abelson PhD '73

Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science