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Aaron Swartz Case: Deja Vu All Over Again For MIT 175

theodp writes "On Saturday, questions for MIT's Aaron Swartz investigation were posted on Slashdot with the hope that MIT'ers might repost some to the MIT Swartz Review site. So it's good to see that MIT's Hal Abelson, who is leading the analysis of MIT's involvement in the matter, is apparently open to this workaround to the ban on questions from outsiders. In fact, on Sunday Abelson himself reposted an interesting question posed by Boston College Law School Prof. Sharon Beckman: 'What, if anything, did MIT learn from its involvement in the federal prosecution of its student David LaMacchia back in 1994?' Not much, it would appear. LaMacchia, an apparent student of Abelson's whose defense team included Beckman, was indicted in 1994 and charged with the 'piracy of an estimated million dollars' in business and entertainment computer software after MIT gave LaMacchia up to the FBI. LaMacchia eventually walked from the charges, thanks to what became known as the LaMacchia Loophole, which lawmakers took pains to close. 'MIT collaborated with the FBI to wreck LaMacchia's life,' defense attorney Harvey Silverglate charged in 1995 after a judge dismissed the case. 'I hope that this case causes a lot of introspection on the part of MIT's administration. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.'"
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Aaron Swartz Case: Deja Vu All Over Again For MIT

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  • LaMacchia Loophole (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:24AM (#42714397)

    Is that a loophole?

    Surely a copyright violation SHOULD be charged under copyright acts, not interstate wire fraud.

    WIRE FRAUD?? Really? Intentional deception of others to personally gain from them? Where? How? Who? did that happen.

    Wallstreet junk assets, dressed as prime sold to banks under deception = criminal fraud, yes I can see that. And I was happy to see the heavy criminal sentences handed down to the Wallstreet bankers who lied about assets to sell them onto to their clients. Hold on, I've got confused, I meant the heavy wads of cash handed down to Wallstreet bankers who lied about assets....

    At least could you charge those bankers with copyright infringement? Maybe a parking fine?

    • by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:56AM (#42714583)

      Thanks to them closing the "LaMacchia Loophole" you can now be charged with theft and wire fraud for downloading copyright material even if you never had any intention or likelihood of making money from it ...

      So now doing something that could *potentially* make you large amounts of money from (but in reality could not) is prosecuted as if you were a crime boss with vast assets from your criminal activity even though you are in reality a poor student ....

      • At least they put a bar up. The bar is low, but it's there. $1000 worth of copyrighted material in a 180 day period. Joe Schmuck who downloads a movie or two is safe, but if his wife ALSO downloads a couple hundred songs, then they might be in trouble.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The material he downloaded was all public domain, meaning he is 100% free to share anything he downloaded. What he did that was wrong was he violated the EULA which stated that the end user couldn't mass-download or use scripts to download.

          Essentially he got charged with wire fraud for breaking an EULA.
          • The material he downloaded was all public domain, meaning he is 100% free to share anything he downloaded. What he did that was wrong was he violated the EULA which stated that the end user couldn't mass-download or use scripts to download.

            Essentially he got charged with wire fraud for breaking an EULA he never agreed to in the first place.


      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by gutnor ( 872759 )
        We could use the same logic to charge a hunter hunting without hunting license with the first degree multiple murders. After all he could have use the same blatant disregard of the law to shoot every one he could. Currently it is a misdemeanour with a pathetic 1 year in prison plus fine. Worse, those psychopathic serial killers are generally only fined.
      • Thanks to them closing the "LaMacchia Loophole"

        "Them" being the elected representatives. They decided that even if you don't profit from copyright violation, you should still have the book thrown at you. I believe the NET Act passed the house and senate unanimously and was signed into law by Bill Clinton.

        Did you take your senator and representative to task when it passed? I bet you didn't. You don't like it? Become politically active.

    • WIRE FRAUD?? Really? Intentional deception of others to personally gain from them? Where? How? Who? did that happen.

      At the risk of condoning prosecutor's reach, I believe the wire fraud charge resulted from the trespass, wiretap, and using MIT's credentials to gain access to JSTOR.

      • No. LaMacchia didn't do anything of the sorts, and the wire fraud charges were presented against him.
        • The subject was Lamacchia Loophole not Lamacchia. The wire fraud charges against Lamacchia didn't stick because it was misapplied. The wire fraud charges against Swartz would apply because unlike Lamacchia he was not authorized to be on MIT campus and gained fraudulent access to their internal network via a wiring closet which allowed him to gain access to JSTOR. The Lamacchia Loophole wouldn't apply since, in this particular case, the prosecution isn't using wire fraud charges as a means to prosecute copyr
          • The wire fraud charges brought against Swartz were only possible because LaMacchia's "loophole" was closed.

            There is no such concept as "fraudulent access" that applies to wire-fraud charges. Wire-fraud is a crime which formerly required money gain to the perpetrator, and now requires any gain or "potential" gain, as long as the property acquired can generate at least U$ 1000,00 in six months. It doesn't matter any more if it will.
            • So, in other news, legislators applied a 'hotfix' to the law that not only didn't fix the original problem, but also created a new one?

              • Basically, yes. Now that you said it it, it weirdly reminds me of Java fixes, although it is arguable if the law needed any fix at all.
    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      the double standard of a poor student who did not even harm the copyright holder vs wallstreet bankers who actually ruined the lives of thousands is really worth note.
  • Department of redundancy department.
  • Petty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:35AM (#42714463) Homepage

    MIT sure seems like a petty and vengeful institution. I hope this makes some potential students think about their decision of school.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pale Dot ( 2813911 )
      MIT isn't unique in this case where one department doesn't know what the other is doing. Bureaucratic incompetence, not malice, is the more likely culprit.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No, they weren't vengeful at all. LaMacchia graduated and no internal disciplinary charges were filed. They should have reviewed his case internally and expelled him. LaMacchia was running a warez site, on machines in an MIT cluster, and much like Swartz got the access revoked repeatedly and kept putting his illegal and resource consuming services back into MIT's networks. The amount of warez downloaded through his site for which he was charged was only a few days' traffic, he'd been running that thing for

      • Re: Petty (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Urza9814 ( 883915 )

        Swartz screwed up JSTOR access for everyone at MIT and repeatedly took down JSTOR servers, interfering with other labs and schools. downloading files that he had permission to access.

        They both belonged in jail. Too bad they were both too privileged, pretty white boys to serve even a day.

        So the Slashdot effect is a crime now? Does that mean anyone who actually RTFAs is guilty of conspiracy?

        • by Rakishi ( 759894 )

 downloading files that he had permission to access.

          So a DDOS attack is perfectly fine because it's merely accessing a sever that you've already had permission to access?

          • Yes; it's the digital equivalent to a sit-in; the fact that it is considered to be illegal is absurd.

            But even if you disagree, the entire reason a DDOS is illegal is because the intent is to shut down the site. If my site is so poorly coded that a single visitor crashes the server, you think I'd have any luck going to the FBI asking them to investigate the "criminal" responsible? Of course not. It was not a coordinated attack; it was not an intentional attempt to shut down the site; it was one guy downloadi

          • I certainly hope so. Otherwise Slashdot is a repeat scofflaw [] and possibly one of the worst wire fraudstars on the net (applying the criteria of the Swartz case).
      • Whether they belonged in jail or not, twisting the law into a pretzel to ensure that they could potentially have been jailed if those laws had been in effect at the time they commited the offense, with no regards for the future consequences of those new laws, is completely insane.

      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        To me, not filing internal disciplinary charges, but instead working with the FBI to prosecute him, has it exactly backwards. If indeed he did something wrong and damaged the MIT network, why not discipline him internally rather than calling in the FBI? Not everything needs to be a federal criminal case, especially when the institution is large and wealthy enough, as MIT is, to handle its own problems.

        • by nomadic ( 141991 )
          If indeed he did something wrong and damaged the MIT network, why not discipline him internally rather than calling in the FBI?

          Because he didn't work for MIT, so the school had no jurisdiction over him and no ability to punish him.
      • Why would you expel someone for warez? That just shows that a school has no actual values/isn't with the times. Please show me a school that would expel a student for torrenting, and that would be a school which should be torn down for a lack of a backbone on sensible policies.

        Please remind me of where the harm is for LaMacchia, since he was found not guilty. Please, play more bullshit there, buddy. Swartz's access to Jstor meant nothing as it was public. If he took it down, then what? That means it's nothi

      • by nmb3000 ( 741169 )

        They both belonged in jail. Too bad they were both too privileged, pretty white boys to serve even a day.

        The absurdity of this sentence is astounding.

        LaMacchia "got off" because he didn't break the law. Do you understand what that means? He did not violate the established law... so why does he belong in jail? But don't worry -- his innocence resulted in the creation of additional tighter, more draconian laws which have been slowly removing from copyright any semblance of its original meaning. Oh, and at the same time bankrupting and making felons of your average American families (you know, your neighbors)

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @09:44AM (#42714485) Homepage

    MIT is all about producing people for business. The connection between business and MIT are obvious. MIT is not publicly funded according to what I've read, though there are arguments against or limiting that notion.

    I think attendees at MIT need to do some soul searching of their own. MIT could be forced to close up if enough students decided to not enroll the next go-around. It's a tough choice because having MIT papers backing you makes one's future look brighter. But what about the larger picture? I hope they are considering it. Student protests should happen.

    • MIT is not publicly funded according to what I've read

      Isn't most of MIT's total operating budget supported by federal research grants? Back when Kerry/Gore/O'Leary lead the effort to kill the Integral Fast Reactor, it was said that Kerry's motivation was to protect the hot fusion money coming into MIT (tens of millions per year).

      • Yes. MIT operates the Lincoln Laboratory for the federal government, and uses those fund to support the university budget, too. This is similar to the Caltech situation in which Caltech's budget is taken out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which they operate.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 28, 2013 @10:11AM (#42714667)

    "Approximately 30 students gathered yesterday afternoon to protest the administration’s handling of controversies involving students. While the majority of the protest was focused on the Star A. Simpson ’10 arrest, the discussion also touched on administrative reactions to the sodium fire on the Charles River and the felony charges filed against hackers found in the MIT Faculty Club.

    The protest, which took place outside of Pritchett Dining in Walker Memorial, consisted of students carrying signs such as “Question the Media,” “Wait for the Facts,” and “Support Your Student.” Students also carried a protest letter that had been circulated across the campus."

  • by TheMathemagician ( 2515102 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @10:57AM (#42715073)
    They detected an intruder illegally breaking into their network and worked with the authorities to catch the perpetrator in the act. What happened afterwards is not MIT's fault. If you decide to "stick it to the man" then be prepared for some blowback.
  • The author of the LaMacchia Loophole seems to think BitTorrent existed in 1994. The BitTorrent protocol was designed in 2001. May be the author thinks BitTorrent is a generic term for downloading stuff.

  • by TwineLogic ( 1679802 ) on Monday January 28, 2013 @12:25PM (#42716025)
    After these events, what American in their right mind would attend MIT? I say leave that musty institution to foreigners. Let it rot.
  • The University system should provide Sanctuary for its students. It takes the most brilliant and promising children of each generation, and takes the best of them to the frontiers of human knowledge, and encourages and teaches them to push and develop these frontiers. This is one of the highest callings of the University system. This also gives the Universities a great responsibility -- to protect those young bright minds who are going boldly where none has gone before. They need to provide Sanctuary for th
  • have no respect for MIT?

Too much of everything is just enough. -- Bob Wier