Stealing Your Music

There are a number of ways your computer could be employed to download copyrighted content illegally. The RIAA wants to prevent this from happening and has been taking unsuspecting P2P users to court in an effort to protect intellectual property. Patricia Santangelo is the among the latest of these plantiffs, and rather than accept a settlement she has spent more than $25,000 to take them to court.

Patricia contends that she is innocent because she has no computer literacy, which would make it impossible for her to have downloaded this music illegally.

What if Patricia owned a gun and failed to secure it with a trigger lock? Imagine if her children had friends visiting the house and they found the unsecured gun, would Patricia be innocent if these kids used the gun to kill someone? Even if the murder was accidental, Patricia would be held accountable because she neglected to store a dangerous weapon in a proper fashion.

Now let’s turn to the question of how she should have secured her computer. If the kids were using the system in an unsupervised fashion, Patricia should have password protected the machine and they should have not been allowed to access it with any superuser (Administrator) privileges. It was her responsibility to understand how to properly configure her computer, imagine if a gun owner could plead innocent because they were shotgun illiterate.

If the kids were restricted from installing any new software and if Patricia had taken the time to secure her computer using a properly configured firewall, then it would have been unlikely they could have used her machine to download music.

Obviously, this kind of protection won’t always be sufficient. A truly capable hacker would be able to circumvent virtually any restriction once they are afforded physical access to the computer. For example, boot the computer from a USB thumb drive and circumvent access restrictions on your operating system altogether. This could also be accomplished remotely using malware or perhaps by exploiting a weakness in your operating system.

If you have taken every reasonable precaution to secure your PC, and a malicious hacker still finds a way to gain privileged access to your machine, are you still guilty if the RIAA discovers copyrighted music on your hard drive? This is a much more difficult question, and won’t be something that the courts will need to consider in Patricia’s case.