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Hacker Crackdown?

CmdrTaco posted more than 14 years ago | from the stuff-to-read dept.

News 299

rombouts noted that Salon has a good piece on the liability of programmers. From Napster, to Freenet, to DeCSS, on down. If you're scared by any of this, you should be. There are a lot of cases out there right now that are gonna change the world, and folks, it could go either way.

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Re:Read about striking (1)

Cederic (9623) | more than 14 years ago | (#874349)

I find bribing politicians distasteful, plus I tend not to be able to afford it after paying the mortgage.

I do vote, I do write to my MP (UK Member of Parliament) and I do not post anonymously to Slashdot.

I personally am glad that I am in a profession where a scarcity of quality people gives me a lot of individual bargaining power with my employers - the threat of me leaving to get a job elsewhere tends to be sufficient pressure to ensure good conditions, salary, etc - even though I seldom actually raise it as a possibility.

I do act ethically within my job, I do tell management honestly what I think of them, and I do take into consideration my colleagues (both techy and others).

My response to the article as posted is that to protect myself in future, any source code/software I release as myself (rather than through an employer) I am going to release through a limited liability company - they're cheap and easy to set up here, and can go out of business without cost to me personally should someone get unreasonably litigious.


Re:Alarmism. (1)

leftorium (32683) | more than 14 years ago | (#874351)

I agree with most, however you can't just create a program and let it run rampant, and not expect any repercussions.

"The authors can't otherwise control what's done with it."

If you create something destructive and get it out to a bunch of people, you are the creator and should face the music. You can't hide behind the actions of other people when you had the primary role. That's like Big Tobacco blaming people for smoking. The companies themselves never lit a cigarette for a consumer.

But that's discriminatory!! (1)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 14 years ago | (#874353)

Alan Turing was gay and if he lived in the usa now then he'd no doubt claim you were picking on him and launch a counter-suit...

Hmmmm..... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#874354)

Thinking back on it, I can see where the products of many RIAA recording artists have changed my life.

In '97 I killed my wife after listening to "Enter Sandman". In '99 I killed my dog after first hearing Britney Spears.

In many ways my life would have be better had I never listened to these artists, therefore I am suing each and every one of them as well as the RIAA for giving them a voice.

Anybody know if Johnny Cochran is available?

Sorry, couldn't resist. ;p

Murder victim's relatives to sue gun manufacturers (1)

bandolero (114290) | more than 14 years ago | (#874358)

Following this reasoning, victims' relatives could then sue gun manufactures for every person ever killed using one of their products.
Why stop there? how about knife manufacturers?
let's sue them as well.
And forks, oh yeah they can very dangerous in the wrong hands.
And baseball bates.
And chainsaws, and hammers, and scissors and staplers, what the hell, let's sue everyone in this f***ed-up country.

Re:Why stop there? (1)

mizhi (186984) | more than 14 years ago | (#874360)

Heh... I'm American of above average intelligence, and I still have to look that word up when I'm writing. Thanc gof dor spel chec! =)

Why share code ? (1)

MrDalliard (130400) | more than 14 years ago | (#874361)

I think this is a particularly dangerous ruling, mainly because the author of a perfectly innocent piece of code could be attacked for having their code reused by someone else in a program with a malicious intent.

Daft. Take this example.

"This comb is perfectly harmless."
"No it's not, when you attach it to a chainsaw."

I think it brings into question whether people would want to share their code or not. If this is the case, not, I would say.


Re:The above comment missed the point (3)

KjetilK (186133) | more than 14 years ago | (#874362)

As for the soldier, well he really is just a link in the chain, since that's the way the military works. He just follows orders, he doesn't need to worry about them. He can't decide which are the "real" orders and to which ones he should say "That's immoral/unethical, I'm not going to do that".

No. That is exactly the attitude which makes crimes against humanity possible: "I was just following orders". It doesn't stand up. Each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. You know, this has been the main point of every trail on war-crimes since WWII, and indeed, you bet top nazis where convicted, while they were "just following orders". Why is this wrong? Because if you are willing to follow a lunatic on top, then you are contributing, because if you hadn't followed orders, it had never gone that far. You are all individuals! (No, don't give me that "I'm not!" :-) ).

As for the nuclear bomb, it was the scientists who should have stopped it, because only they could possibly be able to see the consequences of what they were up. Policymakers does not have the proper education to understand that, only the scientists.

As for technology in general, yes we do have a responsibility. As above, you can't just say you are a part of the chain, you will have to take responsibility for what you do. BTW, see Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility [] .

If designers of Napster designed it with the purpose of taking away somebody's rights, then, they must take responsibility for it. Ulrich felt that his right to decide how his music was to be distributed, and he has a point there. If Napster creators can convince people that there are more important concerns, then they must do it. It is still their responsibility, they can't run away from it.

In the case of DeCSS, I think the creators are assuming the responsibility for what they have done, and it is no small responsibility, it could prompt massive social change, and it is my firm belief, that it is social change for something good. It is not the DeCSS that should be illegal, but CSS. CSS was designed with the intention of taking away fundamental rights, notably the right for fair use. The creators are hiding behind copyright laws, not assuming the responsibility for something so bad they should have said "no, this stuff is not good, I won't make it". The same goes for a lot of things /. flame about, like spyware.

In conclusion, you must assume responsibility for what you do. Now, it is not ethically minded hackers that I'm most concerned about, it's all the coders who will do anything if you pay them big bucks.

Re:Not according to Human developement report 2000 (1)

Eloquence (144160) | more than 14 years ago | (#874363)

Trouble is, the HDI doesn't take inequality into account, and thus, a country where some people fare extremely well and others rather badly might come out as good or very good in average. Such is the case for the US, where large parts of the population (~15% for adults, ~20% for juveniles) live beneath the poverty line, many don't have health insurance coverage, many are homeless, many are in prison, minorities are disadvantaged.

There are other measures, such as the ISEW, that try to define sustainable development and also take disparity into account. Of course they are not widely used as they make the "world leaders" look much different, especially in retrospect (development has become less and less sustainable in the past decades).

So as someone else said, if you're black and live in LA, the US are pretty far down at the scale, if you're a dot-communist in Silicon Valley, things might look different until your shares go down.

But hey, what's that gotta do with the subject at hand? Mommy, the troll got me!


Norway (1)

gaudior (113467) | more than 14 years ago | (#874367)

Q: Why do Swedish birds fly upside-down over Norway?

A: So they don't have to look at all that misery.


Something about a handbasket... (3)

JCMay (158033) | more than 14 years ago | (#874369)

It's a sign of the times. We're a nation- no a world of victims. We are not responsible for anything, and we spend our energies looking for an easy out: how can I profit from somebody else's work?

This whole idea of coder responsibility for others' use of software is merely the latest power grab by these whiners. I'm so glad I don't live in Atlanta any more, where gun makers are under threat of suit for people shooting each other. I just have to shake my head. What's wrong with sending the shooters to jail? Oh, yeah. It's their wretched childhood that made them do it.

Here in Florida, smokers are getting paid to smoke. No. Really. Long-time smokers, people that have been smoking since the European explorers came here and found the natives burning leaves and inhaling the combustion products, are suing the companies that provided them with the instruments of their chosen leisure activity because "we didn't know it'd make us sick!" Baloney. It's common knowledge that smoking will make you sick, and even kill you. But cigarettes and tobacco products are legal. There are warning messages in all advertising. On even the packaging of the products! In newspaper articles and medical research reports. These people have no excuse, other than themselves, for their continued smoking. Yet we find ourselves in the midst of an amost trillion dollar settlement.

About ten years ago, people clammored for air bags in cars. The automakers were reluctant; air bags were a relatively unknown quantity, even though conceptually they held much promise. The Government, out to save us all from ourselves, stepped in. A law was passed mandating air bags in vehicles. Soon after, accidents starting happening where children were hurt or killed by these "life-saving" air bags. Now people are clammoring for "slow-deploying" or switchable air bags. Tell me, if air bags become switchable, how long is it going to take before the first law suit is filed claiming that so-and-so was killed because their air bag was turned off? How negligent of the auto maker to allow car owners the option of turning off safety equipment!

Even before air bags was the seat belt. Cars didn't come with them standard originally. But about 40 years ago books were written and lawsuits came about that end the end meant that every car on the road had seat belts. Cars cost a little more, but hey, now they were safe. Except nobody would use them (well, I like seat belts-- keep me from sliding around :) So fifteen or so years ago, the Government stepped in, and a law was passed requiring seat belt use. Whew! Now we are safe in our cars.

Unless you drive a small car. Ten you are in danger from those of us that choose to drive our urban tanks (personally, I drive a 1995 Firebird). Your chinzy little car may get dramatically better gas milage, may be easier to drive and park, and even cost less. But get in a scrap with your neighbor's Suburban, and you're toast. Tell me, what do you think: Should he not be allowed to have his Geo-Eater, or should you be required to buy a Urban-Sherman?

In each of these cases the Government has stepped in, and in each case we've been told that we're too dumb to live our own lives making our own decisions. It used to be that a boy became a "man" early in his teenage years. Later it was put off 'till his eighteenth birthday. Afterwards, 21, because "men" could drink. Today, I think that about age 83 is right for becoming a "man." Before age 83, we're too dumb and inexperienced to handle our own lives.

We, as a group, want to be coddled. We've come to live in Neverland, and it's populated with nothing but an army of Peter Pans. We never grow up, we never take responsibility.

It's stupid and I resent it.


Re:Interesting Liability feedback... (2)

ronfar (52216) | more than 14 years ago | (#874371)

and bands like Metallica are liable for kids going on killing sprees after listening to their music.
They keep trying, see the following articles:

http://www.freedomforum. org/news/2000/04/2000-04-07-01.asp []

http://www.freedomforum. org/news/2000/07/2000-07-31-08.htm []

http://www.freedomforum. org/news/2000/08/2000-08-03-03.htm []

I'm not sure if the First Amendment still works or not, but it's getting closer and closer to the day when its just a hollow promise with no effectiveness in law.

When they censor me (1)

Rozzin (9910) | more than 14 years ago | (#874372)

It's only a matter of time before the public rises up and demands accountability for software. Imagine a senator getting elected on the platform of promising to put programmers behind bars for writing software that is unreliable. Or a district attorney setting out to put programmers behind bars, not for hacking or writing viruses, but for writing products that don't meet government standards.

That'll probably be when I stop coding, then. Or, rather, it'll be the day that I stop being able to give to people the software that I write.

Then they'll set out to put other types of artists behind bars for producing things that don't meet government standards, and I won't be able to share anything with anyone.

I'll still produce, but I'll need to keep everything locked up, hidden away from society.
What a horrible way to live.

Re:Norway (1)

KjetilK (186133) | more than 14 years ago | (#874374)

Hey! That's a Norwegian joke about Sweden! You just swapped Sweden and Norway! Bloody %^&@! :-) LOL. Besides, Sweden is not on the top 5, right?

Re:Basketball Diaries wrongful death trial (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 14 years ago | (#874377)

Movies can be as graphics as they like, they have no responsibility towards the viewers. They don't check your criminal/psych records when you go to the theatres, anybody is free to view the movies. Therefore there is the possibility that some of the viewers might be psychologically unbalanced and very influencable. Can you blame this on the movie producers ? No, because they have no control over who sees their movie and who doesn't. Same thing with software developers. The lonestar coder who gives away a newsreader can't be held responsible because uses it to propagate goat porn. If that were true, then maybe I could sue Coca-Cola for keeping me up all night, causing me to be late at work because of insomnia, and eventually resulting in my getting fired for being late all the time.

Contrast this with a valid blame situation, for example if someone rams you with a truck and the resulting injuries prevent you from going to work, you can sue them (their insurance company) to compensate for your lost income, because it was their decision (or indecision) to ram you.

Software developers don't decide they want to make systems crash on purpose, and you can't sue them if it does crash. Maybe your Ram is flaky.. maybe your motherboard is so cheap it can't stand running at 100mhz.. maybe you're just too stupid to properly install it (or the underlying OS). You can't blame M$ because your Houston Tech mobo is too crappy to run crash-free. You can't blame them because your lan admins are ferociously incompetent. As soon as there's any fudge factor between the accused and yourself, their liability basically vanishes. "Maybe it crashed because the wind was blowing from the east instead of the west, restricting airflow into the building, and causing my CPu to overheat." Well maybe it doesn't make much sense but it does invalidate your claim. Doubt is every lawyer's best friend.

Why stop there? (3)

HiQ (159108) | more than 14 years ago | (#874378)

They should go after the guy who invented TCP/IP... No wait, get the guy who first thought of networking... No wait, the guy who first thought of computers, he is definately the guilty one!


How to make a sig
without having an idea

What if... (2)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 14 years ago | (#874380)

What if rather than writing the file sharing program (which i am actually writing) I merely distribute details of the protocol.

It could be that I tell my mates down the pub the details of the protocol and it's up to them if they wish to implement it. More likely i'd stick it on a webpage/freenet.

That way I am merely excersising my right to free speech - just as there is nothing wrong with distributing instructions to make bombs and drugs.

(Dont confuse this bit with the DeCSS/Copyleft/MPAA case because that was arguably a proprietary piece of code)

Now similarly I could include a reference implementation with the knowledge of the protocol (standard practise), showing people how to implement it. Using the meatspace example I attach to my book pictures of all the chemistry-like apparatus i need to make amph3tamines (this is hyphotetical mind).

At which point have I gone too far?

Anyway if you can pass the buck for the Gnutella problem back to justin at nullsoft then what stops him passing it on to Microsoft/Borland/Watford (depending on who's tools he uses). They can probably pass it onto intel as well because after all gnutella would never have been possible without intel's aid.

My feeling is actually that most of the blame for the mp3 revolution lies with the CD drive manufacturers. There is (as far as I can tell) no legitimate use for 8x DAE - sure 1x is useful if you need to play cds over a network or on a laptop that doesn't have a pass thru wired from it's cd rom drive - but 8x DAE is designed for ripping, and yet companies like samsung, plextor and creative (to name but a few) deliberately built this feature for their own financial gain.

As for the software/hardware dispute, anyone here should know that computers are finite state machines and as such any computer application can be created using a hardwired set of transistors or even valves... surely this makes it evident that software is not a service but a product??

Softward Conspiracy (1)

Phule77 (70674) | more than 14 years ago | (#874381)

It's more about a corporate attitude that quality doesn't matter (ie, turning out software with a multitude of bugs) so long as there are lots of cool new bugs and whistles to keep the user entertained until the next expansion. Actual individual programmers are of less of a mentioned threat...though one could suppose that their willingness to work in an environment which supports allowing bug infested programs to go out condemns them outright...

Time to Say Something (3)

DeICQLady (150809) | more than 14 years ago | (#874382)

Other than the question of the extent of a programmers liability, another point the article brought up that I thought important was "Unless technologists take a leading role in shaping the legal debate, says Jennifer Granick, a San Francisco lawyer who regularly defends people accused of computer crimes, Oppenheimer's legacy of freedom could be lost."

Not only will that leagacy be lost, we will stand by and watch a group of people, some of which have relatively little knowledge of how our "baby" (the industry) works, molding it and creating it into what they are used to and are familiar with. The scary thing about that is we have never been exposed to such bombardments and tests on defining or having to redefine copyright or amendment rights et al., therefore we run a grave risk of never having legislature evolve to encapsulate our new ways of communicating, sharing ideas and innovationg.

I think what we should do is treat this whole phase of redefinement (sp?) and growth like Linux: if there is something you don't like and | or you think it can be done better, make an effort to say something that will only benefit us in the long run, and reduce chances of implementing *permanent solutions* (ahem, law) that sucks the innovation and enthusiasm out of our baby. (The engineers, scientist and techs will get left out and the marketing and finance people and lawyers make all the money!)

Nuff Respec'


Read the Risks Forum (4)

goingware (85213) | more than 14 years ago | (#874383)

I say this all the time here, I think it is important. It is very pertinent to programmer liability (although more from a safety or cost of failure perspective) - read the Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems [] . It is also available on the Usenet News as comp.risks [comp.risks] .

If you think programmers can really escape liability for their products (or should), think about what kind of effort and investment companies like the tobacco industry and auto manufacturers of automobiles and childrens toys and food put into defending themselves from lawsuits and government regulation.

It's only a matter of time before the public rises up and demands accountability for software. Imagine a senator getting elected on the platform of promising to put programmers behind bars for writing software that is unreliable. Or a district attorney setting out to put programmers behind bars, not for hacking or writing viruses, but for writing products that don't meet government standards.

I haven't read it yet, but the Software Conspiracy [] looks interesting.

Re:Why stop there? (1)

HiQ (159108) | more than 14 years ago | (#874385)

No no.. sue the guy (or girl) who created the guy who created mankind

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This is just so wrong... (3)

fraserspeirs (113052) | more than 14 years ago | (#874466)

All these cases are just knee jerk reactions. Like the Salon article says, nobody has actually decided on a concrete definition of what software is, so were're seeing them take each case on its merits or demerits.

I find it completely bizzare that technology is now seen as inherently good or evil, not neutral. It seems that it is Napster itself that is bad, not the actions of it's users who download copyrighted MP3.

How come we have double tape decks? Surely that encourages copying? Maybe it's easier to shut down Napster than it is to criminalize millions of users then try to prosecute each one.

Why change when you can force a dystopian reg.... (2)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874469)

A computer is one of the most powerful things in the history of humanity. One of the most powerful agents of change. Inherent in the very idea of distributed networks is that it makes what was once profitable unprofitable. Unfortunately, the people who are threatened most by this technology control the world-views of most of the people in this nation.

Computers are a lot like the printing press in what its capable of, the dissemination of information, but it goes far, far, beyond the printing press in the amount of information that it can transfer. On the one hand the printing press ultimately prevailed, and brought great change to our society, but on the other it isn't the 1400s any more. And the very thing that makes computers dangerous to the establishment makes them dangerous to us. What's to stop the FBI from using Carnivore boxes to spy not on email but all network traffic, scanning for copies of DeCSS in transit, or hunting down traffic generated by 'illegal' network programs like Gnutella or Napster? If things go poorly now, in these courts, nothing.

My personal opinion is that we are all pretty much screwed, although some of the reports from the congressional hearing do give me hope.

We don't know how bad things are in north Korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

Backwards world we live in (1)

leftorium (32683) | more than 14 years ago | (#874473)

Everything in the world is gaining freedom (generally speaking), except for in the computer realm. On TV you can see all sorts of things that 20 years ago never would have been allowed. Programmers however face the opposite: freedoms are going away. Who knows what will happen to a completely innocent and legal program you write today... in a year it might be involved in some intellectual property issue or any number of other things.

This trend is completely backwards because of how the world is run these days... by technology. Why should the tail end of society (soap operas and FOX) get all the freedoms and the bleeding edge get the shaft? Any answers to this problem?

why? (3)

macpeep (36699) | more than 14 years ago | (#874479)

I'm probably missing something here so please answer my question:

If I write a piece of software which sole (or biggest) purpose is to help other people engage in illegal activities then why should I not be as liable for it as a drug dealer is for the drugs he sells?

Bad quality (bugs) software is one thing and is merely a question of quality tolerance. Writing crime-assisting software is quite another.

Re:This is just so wrong... (2)

Vanders (110092) | more than 14 years ago | (#874485)

Crminalising the "cause" and not the "effect" is something that has been happening for centuries, all over the world. You only need to look at the current drug laws to see this.

Another example: you pay a premium on your blank media for those double tape tecks (Or CDR's), to cover the "cost" of piracy. The ability to do something is seen as the criminal act, rather than the effect of doing said act. We live in a crazy world my friend.

Disclamier: That post may have made no sense. Sorry.

Re:why? (4)

HiQ (159108) | more than 14 years ago | (#874499)

Well, when is a drug a drug??

You can buy glue in a store, that helps you glue things together; but you can also take a nice deep sniff of it, and float quietly away, mmmKay? Same goes for software; you can program nmap to check for weak spots in your network, but you can use this tool for good and for bad.

All in all, your question is not so easy to answer; unfortunately, the worlds isn't so black and white, it also comes in different shades of gray

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US != World (3)

bartok (111886) | more than 14 years ago | (#874504)

Hum, hum I don't mean to be a troll gere but the rest of the planet keeps turning when something bad happens in the US. Americans have this anoying tendency to think that everyone want to be like them. Not that being an American is a bad thing but.. I guess most smart people have gotten my point..

hrm (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874508)

Thats an interesting idea, and I could see how it could apply to software that is sold and possibly should be. On the other hand, I don't see why anyone should be held liable for open-source software that they write (unless they sell it). Perhaps people should be entitled to twice their money back :)

We don't know how bad things are in north korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

Guns and Programs (1)

junklight (183583) | more than 14 years ago | (#874514)

what I don't understand is why gunmakers can't be litigated against in the same way the likes of napster can.... is there some kind of precedent? and if so why doesn't it also apply for software?
Excuse my ignorance of american law but I'm based in the UK.

Re:why? (1)

Kickasso (210195) | more than 14 years ago | (#874516)

If I write a piece of software which sole (or biggest) purpose is to help other people engage in illegal activities then why should I not be as liable for it as a drug dealer is for the drugs he sells?

If you do so, be my guest and consider yourself liable. I have yet to meet such a piece of software. (I know what Napster is, thank you.)

Prospective (2)

mirko (198274) | more than 14 years ago | (#874524)

DIY-code-freaks are what we call hackers (bidouilleurs in French).
For example, somebody who codes (preferably against ISO9xxx heavy standards) practical tools for his own needs.
If these tools could be used in order to gather illegaly copyrighted data, then, according to this article, the hacker could be considered as a pirate, or as a criminal.
In case this happens to be accepted and hackers happen to be condemned because they created such tools then this would especially mean that whoever coding whatever will need a licence to be allowed to share it publicly so that his liability can easily be proofed whenever some malicious guy discovers some funny manipulation to be done with one of his programs.
This is really frightening as Free Software can't afford to rely only on "licensed" coders.
This just reinforce the gap between the way Internet was used 10 years ago and how it works today.
But I still hope this is only Sci-Fi.

Re:why? (4)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874527)

Hrm... you don't sound like a troll

If I write a piece of software which sole (or biggest) purpose is to help other people engage in illegal activities then why should I not be as liable for it as a drug dealer is for the drugs he sells?

How is writing software like selling drugs? Holding software authors liable for the criminal activities of others would be like holding hypodermic needle makers liable for people injecting heroin. Hypodermic needles can be used to inject anything, just like Napster can be used to transfer any audio recording (or other file, with a bit of hacking) and DeCSS can be used to decrypt DVDs for lawful purposes.

While a tool can be used for illegal purposes, the illegal acts are not the responsibility of the toolmaker, but rather the actor. The kid trading Metallica over napster is the drug-dealer, not the guy who coded it.

Re:Why stop there? (1)

HiQ (159108) | more than 14 years ago | (#874534)

And what's the error then?

(BTW, not everyone in the world is American; not everyone speaks english natively. So given my effort, perhaps you could comment on my spelling in my language (==Dutch))
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United we stand (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 14 years ago | (#874535)

Its an attitude/opinion on how things should be that binds us together, not an individual product.

Making a martyr of one of will only strengthen our resolve (e.g. DeCSS)

You can cage a bird, you cannot cage a song.

This is natural - A new status quo will result. (1)

lim-bim-tim-wim (155248) | more than 14 years ago | (#874538)

When will the americans learn? You cannot beat the coders! :-)

Law and the court systems are too slow and the internet is to pervasive to slow down.

It's not that the coders are always right, but it's like trying to stop an exotic pest. The systems in place cannot cope, so in the end they assimilate the newcomer, and an new status quo is formed. And everything is cool again.

Or say the abolition of slavery in america, initially the farmers wouldn't have known what to do ("Uuhhhhhhhhhhh Pay the workers Cleatus? Confound it!") but in the end everything worked out.. And for the better for everyone.

25 years from now we won't know what the fuss was about, media, in all it's forms, will be quite different. And I doubt we'll be paying much for it, but since it's what everyone will be used to, no one will care.

So.. You cannot beat the coders.

I really don't see how they could get sued. (1)

wiZd0m (192990) | more than 14 years ago | (#874540)

If I buy gun, and go on to kill people, can MAGNUM be sued for enabling me to brake the law? How about when I purchase a car that can go way faster then the speed limit. Since I can speed and brake the law, if I chose to do so, should Ford engineers be responsible for giving me the means to brake the law? Should Microsoft engineers be liable for selling visual basic that was used to create "I love you"?

Then why should gnutella, freenet, developers be liable for enabling me to download whichever file I chose to??

The answer is no, no, no, no.


Most of the software you use is developed here (1)

vertical-limit (207715) | more than 14 years ago | (#874543)

Napster, Gnutella, DeCSS, Junkbusters, and almost all the other controversial programs you care to name were developed in the United States. If the services are shut down by a U.S. court, then you can't use them no matter where you live. No more new versions, nothing. In fact, Mr. Troll Gere, you're posting on an American website right now. If some American lawsuit caused this American site to close its American doors, you, a Canadian, would still be affected, because you can't post anymore. Sure, maybe Slashdot would have been okay in Canada. But that doesn't matter -- it's an American site!

Don't assume that what happens in other countries doesn't affect you. We live in an international world, and events in the United States or Zimbabwe or China affect people everywhere in the world.

Re:This is just so wrong... (1)

laigledelaroute (217241) | more than 14 years ago | (#874547)

Why could'nt you pay a premium on your blank internet medium? And who's making the money about the downloads? ISP's and telco's. They should pay the artists.

Accountability? Yeah, right!! (3)

smallstepforman (121366) | more than 14 years ago | (#874550)

Society should stop grinding axes and focus on educating people, since all problems which exist today stem from a lack of understanding. Beer manufacturers should not be held accountable for alchohol related accidents - drivers should be aware of how alchohol impedes judgement. The poor peasants in Serbia shouldn't be bombed for the insanity of one man - the west should encourage the citizens to seek a wealthier life. Software engineers should not be held accountable for a bug which causes an orbital rocket to deviate from its course and slam into a crowded school - management must allow adequate time for testing. Etc Etc.

Re:Moderate this one up (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874551)

I really fell its time to start countr sueing the US goverment on these issues

Its hard to sue the organization that makes the laws, especially since the US government is not liable for any mistakes...

We don't know how bad things are in north korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

Re:This is just so wrong... (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 14 years ago | (#874556)

Good way of looking at it, but how do you do this on a world wide scale? And don't you think that those costs would only be transfered to you in the end (As it is with blank hard-media now?)

Re:do ya know, we have courts for these things? (1)

lim-bim-tim-wim (155248) | more than 14 years ago | (#874557)

<i>Fact: Highest number of trial lawyers per head -- United States of America

Fact: Highest standard of living -- Same Damn Place</i>

Gee, I'd think that first statistic would make a country horrible. _TRIAL_ lawyers is my point here :-).

I'd hate to live somewhere where I had to be insured up to the eyeballs incase of liability...

Re:Most of the software you use is developed here (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874560)

Napster, Gnutella, DeCSS, Junkbusters, and almost all the other controversial programs you care to name were developed in the United States. If a U.S. court shuts down the services, then you can't use them no matter where you live.

Wrong, way wrong, actually (DeCSS was not written in the US, I think it was coded in Norway). And neither DeCSS nor Gnutella a 'services' that can be shut down, both are open-source (although the source is not out for the original gnutella, it is an open protocol and easy to implement). No one really needs a new version of DeCSS and there are lots of people writing new versions [] gnutella.

We don't know how bad things are in north korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

I don't know (1)

Lion-O (81320) | more than 14 years ago | (#874562)

Personally I don't think this is going to happen. There are just to many glitches in the law, and besides that; this is quite a major topic. I kinda find the theory interesting though; if it would turn out this way I wonder what would happen with companies which produce operating systems (ok,ok: I'm focussing on Microsoft [] ).

But that would also be a good example of why it doesn't work (IMHO). Care to track down all Linux developers and sue 'm? I don't even want to consider the effort and amount of money that would take.

Re:This is just so wrong... (1)

laigledelaroute (217241) | more than 14 years ago | (#874568)

When I listen to the radio, which is "free" music, I pay a tax. Same thing goes for TV. And I rather pay a tax than being disturbed by adds. In any case, I am aleady paying for the internet. For me it is 1.5$/1h. I think it is already a lot. So why would redistribution of a tiny bit of that amount be so complicated?

Liability (2)

Jetifi (188285) | more than 14 years ago | (#874570)

I think there's a slight difference between holding car/cigarette manufacturers responsible for the effects of their product, and holding programmers responsible for what they create.

On one hand, you have global corporations who's every intention is to make money, and damn the consequonces(sp?), and on the other hand, you have a coder looking to increase his "noosphere"

I don't know about anybody else, but sueing me for writing a GPL'd piece of code would be totally counter-productive, as anybody with an interest in the code could then develop it.

Technology advances regardless of the law. Laws written to govern todays technology will be obsolete when tomorrows technology comes along.

Re:I really don't see how they could get sued. (1)

stephenbooth (172227) | more than 14 years ago | (#874572)

Gun manufacturers, NRA, car manufacturers &c pay to get politicians elected. That's the only protection they need!

I do think that if this law was taken to it's logical conclusion that companies such as Microsoft could be liable for supplying the products used to write programs that are used for illegal purposes. Although they'd probably get off on a plea that most of the software produced is used for legal purposes.

But then what software can't be used for illegal purposes? I mean I can use my wordprocessing program to write a book or to plagerise one. With my CDR drive I can create a CD of my own work or a CD of someone elses. A spreadsheet can balance my chequebook or calculate the amount of uranium I need to destroy a large city. I can use my web browser to lookup the best way to wean a child or the best way to build a nuke.

I'm wondering if this new direction the law is taking could possibly be used to procecute those people who write the scripts and guides that script kiddies use to crack systems?


Re:do ya know, we have courts for these things? (1)

Binary Tree (73189) | more than 14 years ago | (#874574)

Moderate this guy way up, he's the funniest fucken troll ever.

Re:Guns and Programs (1)

Elvis Maximus (193433) | more than 14 years ago | (#874576)

Several American cities have [] filed suit against gun manufacturers for marketing an unsafe product. Some of the manufacturers have settled by making concessions on things like trigger locks.


Coder Responsiblity (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874577)

I personally think Bill Joy is a reactionary idiot, (at least as far as politics goes, I really like java :), and a government mandated responsibility for software to uphold a particular moral philosophy is a bad idea...

But coders should take some responsibility for their software.

We don't know how bad things are in north korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

Time to crumble the evil empire... (1)

JosephMast (197644) | more than 14 years ago | (#874580)

hang with me on this one
any hacking done with the tool is the responsibility of the writer of the piece of software..
windows is based upon ms-dos...
Billy Gates wrote (takes credit for?) ms-dos..
looks like we didn't need to wait for the anti-trust trials to go through after all! :-)

Re:This is just what we need (1)

radja (58949) | more than 14 years ago | (#874581)

-let's sue volvo for creating getaway cars for bankrobbers
-sue McDonalds for selling coffee at a temperature at which it is supposed to be served
-sue you for not preventing my bike from getting stolen.
-sue trees for their branches can easily be used as clubs

yup.. all makes sense

Alarmism. (5)

AndrewD (202050) | more than 14 years ago | (#874583)

Even with the unpleasant US laws on copyright and so on, I think salon are over-egging this one (and IAAL, but NAUSQL; mileage may vary from the US Bar). Look at a few examples:

  1. Napster provided a centralised service - their search engine - and that's what is being shut down; the trading of MP3s through less formal channels isn't being touched.
  2. The DeCSS action is about to founder on the First Amendment. The source code is very, very likely to be held to be protected speech.
  3. PGP got around the export restriction by publishing the source as a book: the protected speech could then be exported without restriction and OCR'd, rebuilt and used.

In fine, the author of a piece of source code is OK. If he does something with it that is not protected, he's potentially in trouble. If he provides some other service that's an infringement of something or other, he's potentially in trouble.

That's what Napster ran aground on: the injunction (which won't get stayed by the Appeal, according to a US attorney friend of mine) was against the inclusion of copyrighted material in their searchable database of traded MP3s, not against the non-infringing uses of the software or in respect of anything the users did.

The injunction ordered Napster to do something they had previously declined to do: exercise some discrimination in the material they included in their list of tradeable MP3 files. Nothing to do with their authorship of any software.

The Oppenheimer defence is available only where you have no control over the end use of the product and there is a substantial lawful end use of same and the product is not dangerous in normal use if it is meant to be safe. (This is a statement of general principle, incidentally: for the specific application in your local jurisdiction consult a lawyer qualified to practise where you are).

Oppenheimer himself had no control over the end use, and that end use was (in the context of a major war) lawful. The product was dangerous in normal use, but then bombs are meant to be.

Big Tobacco is OK all the way up to the danger point. They've been insisting that the product was safe for decades, and now that is coming home to roost. (If they'd sold it, from when they first figured it out, on the basis that "this stuff will kill you: don't say you weren't warned that a little pleasure now will be paid for with a lot of pain later" they'd have been watertight)

DeCSS is perfectly safe to use, and there is a substantial lawful use (at least, lawful everywhere but the US) for a finished product (an executable). The source code itself doesn't do anything but communicate, so it's protected speech. The authors can't otherwise control what's done with it.

Napster, on the other hand, is used almost exclusively (on the evidence in that case, and on Napster's own business plan) for copyright infringement, and Napster run their marketplace as a centralised service so they've got a clear control over what's done with it. It is this last that caught them by the main zipper; it is this that's going to make their eyes water.

Laws (5)

Ayon Rantz (210766) | more than 14 years ago | (#874585)

It seems to me that the problem we're facing is too much legislation. Maybe it's time we started rewriting the laws from scratch?

A good starting point would be:

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

- Aleister Crowley
Why should programmers be silenced for following their True will? Science is already bogged down and stupidified through the master-servant systems incorporated in all major corporations, the education system and politics.
Communication is only possible between equals

- Robert Anton Wilson
If you have to go through the burden of bureaucracy, or resort to lying to your superiors because you know your real thoughts might get you fired or failed, you're already losing control over your own creativity.

Controversial or subversive material such as Socrates' philosophies, the research and books of Wilhelm Reich, or Napster, will always be suppressed by the powers that Be because of fear of the Unknown. The majority of the general public will be fooled all the time. Lawsuits and threats of financial incapacitation have just replaced the poison cup or the burning of books as the establishments instrument of oppression.

Maybe it's time to realise that electorial democracy is just another words for a self-imposed dictatorial oligarchy?

Re:Guns and Programs (1)

friscolr (124774) | more than 14 years ago | (#874586)

And speaking of guns, we have a whole Amendment concerning the Right to Bear Arms. Why not have an Amendment for the Right to Code, and to Retain that Code? Sure, in theory Amendments 1 & 2 (Free Speech and Bear Arms) should be enough, but if the Politician's and Judge's minds can traverse the differences between those forms and the new forms that computers present, perhaps a new Amendment would be necessary?
In the same way that the right to Free Speech isn't designed to the big players (ain't no one gonna stand in their way anyways!), perhaps we need another law to protect the little people whose views on software might not be the same as everyone else's, but still deserve to have and express their views (outside of causing harm/loss to others, of course).

Also, is there any other country where there is a good precedent for the ability to write and keep code, despite someone else's objections? A napster/DeCSS trial that went all the way and came out good for the hacker?
The persecution of hackers isn't purely States-side - isn't Jon of DeCSS also on trial in Norway?


You don't suppose this could affect Microsoft? (1)

roberte1342 (219741) | more than 14 years ago | (#874588)

Microsoft Windows runs Napster, Napster was probably built using tools provided by Microsoft. Who's to say that the programmers at Microsoft are not aiding these guys by making sure there products aren't being used by bad guys?

Just a thought.


Re:I really don't see how they could get sued. (1)

Elvis Maximus (193433) | more than 14 years ago | (#874593)

If I buy gun, and go on to kill people, can MAGNUM be sued for enabling me to brake the law?
The California State Court of Appeal says yes [] .


software liability all of a sudden? (5)

jetson123 (13128) | more than 14 years ago | (#874594)

So, if some company sells me a lousy piece of software that causes me to lose money, I can't sue them, because under UCITA they have absolved themselves of all responsibility.

But if I write a piece of software that can be used for file swapping and someone uses it to commit copyright infringement, I may be held responsible for contributory infringement by the RIAA and MPAA?

Even the language and analogy itself is disturbing: creating tools for letting people share information is now on the same level as creating nuclear bombs? Isn't the ability to communicate freely at the heart of a democracy?

I think it's pretty clear what the deciding factor is in who can and cannot be held responsible for the software they create: people with money and political influence are exempted from responsibility. Remember that next time you vote and give the third party candidates a chance. Nader is looking pretty good...

Re:Read the Risks Forum (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 14 years ago | (#874596)

I'd love for Bill Gates behind bars

Wish granted. []

The above comment missed the point (5)

Crag (18776) | more than 14 years ago | (#874599)

The article refers to making programmers accountable for the ways their software is used against other people, not for how good the software is. This is very different from the liability the automobile and tobacco companies are fighting. This is more like the lawsuits being pressed against the gun makers.

That being said, this concept (programmer is responsible for how his program is used) is ludicrous. While it is important for people to be aware of the potential uses of their creations, the leaders who gave the orders to drop the atomic bomb are to blame, not the scientists who designed it or the works who built it.

This issue is very complex. There is a lot of energy at stake, and a lot of confusion about what can and what "should" be done. The only sure way to solve all these problems once and for all is to hold the final decision makers responsible for _their_ actions. If you are holding a gun, only use it in self defense or for sport. While driving a car, respect the power of 2000 pounds of steal going 70+ mph. While holding a baseball bat, don't blame the manufacturer if you decide to hit someone with it.

No matter what power you hold, there is noone better qualified to keep you from abusing that power than you.

Blaming doesn't get us anywhere. The change we want is much deeper than making it more difficult to cause harm. We need to stop wanting to cause harm.

(We also need to agree on what harm is - napster is certainly a grey area in many peoples' minds.)

Read about striking (1)

goingware (85213) | more than 14 years ago | (#874601)

A frequent topic of discussion in [] is the idea of forming a programmers union and going on strike over such things as loose H1-B visa laws in the US.

A number of people are actively trying to organize such things, but the results so far haven't been promising and the consensus on the reason way is that programmers are just a bunch of pussies too concerned with bringing home the immediate bacon rather than lift a finger to look after their future.

Yeah, that's right - you. Pussies. You may have the balls to post anonymously on Slashdot, but when was the last time you not only voted, but gave money to a political campaign whose position you supported, and did volunteer work for it.

Last time for me was '92, I'm afraid, when the president of Working Software [] and I organized the Jerry Brown for President campaign in Santa Cruz, California [] in the company offices.

I donated the maximum Jerry would accept during that campaign - $100.

First Step (1)

Lozzer (141543) | more than 14 years ago | (#874603)

This seems like the first step on the journey to when the big software companies finally face down the media companies in court and hopefully bankrupt each other...

Re:Read the Risks Forum (2)

/dev/kev (9760) | more than 14 years ago | (#874604)

If you think programmers can really escape liability for their products (or should)

When I write free software and release it under the GPL, or any other major free software license, I expressly disclaim any warantee or fitness for any purpose. In effect, I'm saying that my software may not work as advertised, and that if it doesn't, it's your problem, not mine. In short, don't hold me liable. If that's not acceptable to you, don't use it, it's as simple as that. This is why you won't see things like perl at nuclear reactors, to pick a single example. Heck, they're only allowed to use accredited software to even _design_ the places, let alone run them.

If I wanted to, I could offer a warantee. However, for this I'd need to invest time, effort and probably money into unit testing, formal proofs and so on. I doubt I'd be willing to do that unless someone was willing to reimburse me for that, and for the risk of having my ass hauled into court over it. If I did offer such a warantee, and then my software sucked, fine, sue away to your heart's content. But when I expressly disclaim any warantee or liability, forget it.

Further, this stuff is fine where public safety and other "mission-critical" stuff is involved, but things like copyright infringement (eg. napster, DeCSS) are simply frivolous in comparison.

To say that the DeCSS coders are liable for DeCSS's use in copyright infringements is the equivalent of holding VCR makers liable for pirated videos. Or CD-R drive and media manufacturers liable for pirated software and music made with their devices.

Another potent analogy to draw is coding with writing (novels, for example). If a psycho goes out and commits a crime as laid out in some novel (fiction), you wouldn't hold the author responsible for the psycho's actions, would you? If the novel could be shown to be incitive or otherwise encouraging, well, maybe, but on the merits of only what I describe above, I fail to see how one person can be blamed to be responsible for another's actions.

pick a coutry (1)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 14 years ago | (#874606)

I don't see why people don't pick the correct country when developing code.
The EU dosn't have [] strict export licenses on things like RSA, so if i were a company/group wanting to distribute encription software i would pick the EU over the US and Japan.

like wise i read somewhere that you cant patent software in the EU (though this is probably going to change).

anyhow I only know about the EU and the US anyone have a better country to base software development in?

New form of licensing maybe? (2)

Kamelion (12129) | more than 14 years ago | (#874607)

Could we possibly protect our selves through a new form of licensing. If you have ever read MS licensing agreement you will find they are not responsible in any way of how well their software works or what you use it for. If someone uses IE to steal your cookies it's not MS's fault.

The GPL focuses on protecting the software, not the author. Maybe we need a more protective license.

Basketball Diaries wrongful death trial (2)

goingware (85213) | more than 14 years ago | (#874608)

I don't know how the court case came out, but I recall that the book The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll had a scene of a student fantasizing about murdering someone, a teacher I think.

When the movie came out and included this scene, a similar murder followed, and the relatives of the deceased sued the movie producers - I'm not sure but I think maybe Carroll got sued too, and he'd written the book years and years before the movie came out.

Is the trial finished? Anyone know the results?

OT: "going to change the world"? (1)

Digital_Fiend (41244) | more than 14 years ago | (#874609)

The decisions on things like MP3s are going to be pretty important, but they're going to only affect ONE aspect of ONE minor part of something that is almost completey MEANINGLESS in the big picture!!

I mean, I like computers and technology, but you have to realize that it really doesn't add up to much. So Napster stays. Yeah. So? So now I can rip my DVDs with some software package. So what?? They will NOT change the world, methinks.

remember prohibition? (1)

paranoidfish (124685) | more than 14 years ago | (#874610)

So the government wants to make programmer liable for lots of new things. So loads of people are going to think to themselves "Shit, it could cost me millions in damages to code something that I loose control of". So nobody is going to code anymore. So you loose a large chunk of the innovation of the largest and most profitable industies in America, which after several years criplles the industry. So they drop the laws and everything works out again.

(A simplified view, but...)

Not according to Human developement report 2000 (3)

wiZd0m (192990) | more than 14 years ago | (#874611)

"Fact: Highest standard of living -- Same Damn Place"

Not according to the United Nations Human developement report 2000 on this page:

In this document: .pdf

Top five:

1. Canada
2. Norway
3. United States
4. Australia
5. Iceland

Worst Five:

170. Burundi
171. Ethiopia
172. Burkina Faso
173. Niger
174. Sierra Leone


I know it seems inconsistant... (1)

delmoi (26744) | more than 14 years ago | (#874612)

But remember the golden rule "if one of the sides has lots of money, they are in they are legally right."

When you look at things that way, the laws and actions of the courts and governments are remarkably consistent.

We don't know how bad things are in north korea, but here are some pictures of hungry children. -- CNN

Re:I really don't see how they could get sued. (1)

SquidBoy (208635) | more than 14 years ago | (#874613)

I say, sue Xerox. The entire point of a photocopier is to allow you to copy documents. Until we have some protection system on photocopiers so they can only copy public domain pieces of paper, they should be banned (although they do smell kind of nice).

Re:Not according to Human developement report 2000 (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 14 years ago | (#874614)

1. Canada. I just visited there last week. For the warmer season its supposed to be in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I had to wear a sweater. The population of all Canada combined might equal the state of Mississippi. Beautiful country, but no massive wealthy cities.

5. Iceland. The name is chilling in itself.

Re:why? (1)

Kickasso (210195) | more than 14 years ago | (#874615)

You honestly don't believe napster's (as a company, not a program)

I honestly believe that the current topic is Liability for Programmers. Napster the company is a different issue altogether. I won't discuss it here because it's offtopic.

Napster the program is designed to share .mp3 files across the network, and I don't see how it's more illegal than your friendly httpd.

Re:Not according to Human developement report 2000 (2)

guran (98325) | more than 14 years ago | (#874616)

Yeah his facts were wrong, but still, that was one of his best trolls yet... lol

Re:Prospective (2)

dirk (87083) | more than 14 years ago | (#874617)

DIY-code-freaks are what we call hackers (bidouilleurs in French).
For example, somebody who codes (preferably against ISO9xxx heavy standards) practical tools for his own needs.
If these tools could be used in order to gather illegaly copyrighted data, then, according to this article, the hacker could be considered as a pirate, or as a criminal.

I hate to say it, but I don't see this as a bad thing, as long as it doesn't go out of control. In RL there are things that you can't do or make, and it should be the same way on the Net. Lockpicking tools are illegal to possess unless you are a certified locksmith. You can't make a bomb, even if you don't plan on exploding it. If something is overwhelming used to break the law, then it should be illegal. Notice, I'm not saying anything that can be used to break the law should be illegal. But if the general purpose of something is to use it illegally, then it should be illegal. I could use a lockpick set to break into my house when I lock myself out. But 99.9% of the time it will be used for breaking into someone else's house. A crowbar will be used 99% of the time for construction, etc, so it would be legal. If I write a program that mailbombs someone, there is very little legitimate use for that, therefore it would be illegal.

In general, I agree that people should be responsible for how they use things, but if something has little legal use, then it should fall into the illegal category. If I build a nuclear weapon in garage, that's not okay, whether I plan on using it or not, and this same concept should be carried over to software.

Code = Speech (2)

Eloquence (144160) | more than 14 years ago | (#874618)

Of course, there is already pretty good anonymity on the Net (mixmaster remailers, for example) which can be used to code anonymously or pseudonymously. Ian Clarke & Co. however have their identity revealed and are open to legal threats.

Of course, suing them couldn't have any success -- the programs are usually open-source, and users will hardly accept modified versions that don't do what they want them to do. However, the industry might sue anway, just to make an example and to prevent others from developing similar schemes. A totally useless effort, obviously, as this would only drive developers underground.

At all times in history, interest groups of a religious, economic or political nature have tried to prevent technological progress to protect their own health and wealth. Every time, though change also created victims, it was for the better of all of us. When the forces of regression and stagnation dominate, you can call that a Dark Age. This has happened several times in history, the last time after the downfall of the Roman Empire.

That is exactly why we need anonymous and redundant information storage systems: To protect any kind of speech from censorship (and the speakers from persecution), be it hacking instructions, drug information or political analysis. This is an opportunity we have never had before in history. If we win now, we might not only win one battle between "good" and "evil". We might actually win the war.

Join FreeNet [] now. How often do you get the opportunity to save mankind?


Re:The above comment missed the point (3)

DrWiggy (143807) | more than 14 years ago | (#874619)

While it is important for people to be aware of the potential uses of their creations, the leaders
who gave the orders to drop the atomic bomb are to blame, not the scientists who designed it or the works who built it.

There is a story I can tell here that links the software creativity "conundrum" and the very example you've just given. I used to know a guy who went to join the RAF as a trainee Pilot. In his interview they asked him how we would react if he were given the order to press the button to drop a bomb on a small village, and whether he would have any moral or ethical hangups over it. The answer he gave was that he was just part of a chain - he could not and would not take the sole responsibility for the dropping of that bomb as the ability for him to do so was shared amongst the scientists who created it, the commanders who ordered the bombing, even the woman who cooked him his eggs that morning in the canteen.

In many ways it's exactly the same with software. If I write a piece of code that could be used maliciously (depending on what your definition of malicious is), am I really that responsible for it's use if there are other people who market that code, or who themselves take the source and adapt it so that it is even more malicious? In fact, would my parents not also be responsilbe for encouraging my interest in computers and technology when I was a teenager, and wouldn't those around me encouraging me to progress my careers also be responsible?

My personal feeling is that if one person and one person alone develops a piece of software with deliberate malicious intent and then without encouragment uses that code for malicious purposes, they deserve everything that is coming to them. However, if a developer puts a bug in place by accident in a routine handling safety procedures at a nuclear power plant, is it not also the responsibility of his managment, his testing team, the people who taught him how to code and how to test his code as well as his own fault that the bug got through into a production system?

Re:Read the Risks Forum (1)

Wansu (846) | more than 14 years ago | (#874620)

Yessir. That is not far fetched. Designers of hardware have always had to deal with product liability issues. I've been surprised at how long the software industry has chugged along without that.

Imagine a senator getting elected on the platform of promising to put programmers behind bars for writing software that is unreliable.

Oh, I can. My mother-in-law goes on and on about how Windows crashes. She will not consider running other OSes because they won't run her applications. She thinks the goernment ought to do something about Windows!

Re:Alarmism. (2)

Eloquence (144160) | more than 14 years ago | (#874621)

You're right in that DeCSS should be safe to use and distribute. However, in the US legal system (and most others, AFAICS), with a lot of money and PR you can usually twist the law in an extreme fashion. Consider cases of corporate misconduct. You can dump your toxic sludge anywhere if you spin the media sufficiently and are ready to fight in court. Of course, this gets more and more difficult the higher you get in the court system, as there's more and more media to spin and the bribes get higher and higher. (Also, the Internet is much harder to spin than traditional media.)

So Damien Cave is right on when he notes that it depends largely on how much cash the content industries are willing to spend. And I tell ya, they'll spend their last buck if necessary. Of course, it also depends on how much money, time and effort, we, the people, are willing to spend, and how good we can organize (Class Action, legal defense funds etc.). And it depends on the other indutries and their interest groups: Don't forget that the EFF, for example, is also an interest group for parts of the IT industry. That's where their money comes from. And the same industry is lobbying Congress against stricter laws for content control.

I believe we can win, but not if we just watch in phlegmatism as these century-defining legal battles rage on.


Yes it is (1)

dashmaul (108555) | more than 14 years ago | (#874622)

To us americans the US is the entire world. Nothing else matter's. When your big, you can do what you want. Whether this is good or bad i'll let others decide. But this is how it is.

Re:no coders = no nothing today (1)

Vanders (110092) | more than 14 years ago | (#874623)

Hey, i just thought. Anyone know if there is an IT Workers Union in the UK? I could easily see this sort of thing happening you know.

Re:why? (1)

pseen (219746) | more than 14 years ago | (#874624)


Where does this put the weapons industry? =)

Interesting Liability feedback... (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#874625)

Surely if coders are liable for the users misuse of their programs then all writers and inventors are liable for similar misuse. Effectively this means that GunMakers and the NRA are liable for any killings that are carried out with weapons as they intended illegal usage when they created and upheld gunlaws and making weapons, and bands like Metallica are liable for kids going on killing sprees after listening to their music. KidRandom

Re:This is natural - A new status quo will result. (1)

rogue999 (206555) | more than 14 years ago | (#874626)

Surely the worm will turn in twenty-five years. Be that as it may, irresponsible coders in the here and now may well regret their indiscriminate coding when brought to the bar. It has been shown time and again a conviction isn't necessary to bring someone to their knees. Financial ruin accomplishes the same thing when it drags the families of the offenders through the same knot-hole. Sometimes even the winners lose, can your future utopia be well worth the present dilemma?

No, Al Gore! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#874627)

'Cuz he invented the Internet! :P

Blaming the artist? (2)

Copperhead (187748) | more than 14 years ago | (#874628)

This is the same trend that tried to condemn Oliver Stone [] for Natural Born Killers [] copycats and Ozzy Osbourne [] for Suicide Solution [] suicides.

Why can't they legally treat software as a work of art, protecting the author from whatever abuses that the users may come up with for their software?

Re:Why stop there? (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 14 years ago | (#874629)

I think that the AC referred to "definately", which is written "definitely [] ". An you're right: I had to look it up too as a native Dutch speaker. :-)
" zijn er nog nederlandstaligen op slashdot"

Re:Why stop there? (1)

Deflatamouse! (132424) | more than 14 years ago | (#874630)

Your argument is flawed.

Should victims of a gunshot murder sue the inventor of the gun powder? Or the one that actually commited the crime?

TCP/IP was not invented to commit crimes over the net. Sure it made those crimes possible, just like gunpowder makes killing people with a gun possible.

Re:why? (1)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 14 years ago | (#874631)

Yes and no.

I think it is more akin to selling bongs than selling hypodermic syringes. Sure, you can use a bong to inhale tobacco smoke, or the smoke of any other legal combustible compound, but does the bong vendor really believe (or care, for that matter) that any of his clientele use them for anything other than smoking marijuana? I don't think so!

It's not as if Napster is more commonly used for (non-copyright-breaching) legal file sharing, than for legal file sharing.
Napster, inc. knew that their service would be used by people who were breaking the law. So what?! What they were doing was not in and of itself against the law was it? How was it any different to selling a bong?

Different liabilities: warranties and use (3)

TMiB (169465) | more than 14 years ago | (#874632)

The Salon article is interesting, but doesn't distinguish clearly enough between two very different things:
&#149 warranty for the product: should the author be liable if the software doesn't behave as it should ? (eg the GPS sending you over a cliff example in the article).
&#149 liability for third party use: eg should the authors of Gnutella or Freenet be liable if their software is used for unlawful behaviour (eg copyright infringement).

Now for the first of these, I'd like to see more liability - at least for commercial software - rather than less. Microsoft's standard licence tries real hard to avoid / limit any liability. Should a commercial vendor really be able to say it's not liable, eg, if the fact that its spreadsheet can't do math leads an individual or a business to lose money ?
(The GPL also has a no warranty provision. Dealing with non-commercial open source software shouldn't be a problem: not only is there no commercial benefit to the author, but in theory the user can look at the code themselves to see if it does what the user wants - and even change the code to suit the user's needs.)

The second gives rise to more difficult problems, and this is where Napster is fighting. (Don't forget that Napster though is providing a service - the server - so if Napster loses it won't necessarily mean that the authors of Gnutella or Freenet would lose.)
The test for a product (eg a VCR) is whether the product is "capable" of a lawful use. In the Sony case, a VCR was held to be capable of doing perfectly lawful things (eg time-shifting TV viewing).
A network sniffing tool that could be used legitimately to check vulnerabilities (so they can be closed) would seem to be OK even if it could also be used to check vulnerabilities (so they can be exploited). Though if it was developed and published with the stated aim of checking and exploiting, a court may be reluctant to accept later arguments that the author shouldn't be nailed because it could also be used to check and close .

But if you didn't intend to release it... (1) (196820) | more than 14 years ago | (#874633)

Say you create a program for personal use (surely not a crime; you're allowed to tape music for personal use) and -- oops -- it's leeched from your PC due to M$ Windows' lax security and spread all over the net...

Re:Not according to Human developement report 2000 (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 14 years ago | (#874635)

My definition of a higher standard of living does not include paying $0.75 per liter of gasoline and high taxes. A few days ago, I paid $1.24 a gallon for gas in Missouri. A higher standard of living is being able to purchase more with your dollar, not having devalued currency and paying high taxes.

Re:do ya know, we have courts for these things? (2)

Cederic (9623) | more than 14 years ago | (#874636)

Your credibility takes a considerable hit when you continually use the word 'fucken'. Please either use a real word the rest of us can understand or leave it out completely.

I suspect the post was a troll anyway. For what it's worth, my POV:
World's highest standard of living: Probably Sweden. Maybe Japan. Not the US. Especially if you're black and live in LA.

Lawyers: We need them, admittedly. They are not however, good at making laws. I wont say they are bad, but they are no better than anybody else. Sure, they can help word things so that there are fewer holes, but when it comes to IT, lawyers don't have a clue and so shouldn't be the ones making decisions. It is blatantly ludicrous that as a software developer, I could get shafted sideways by big business, purely because some users of my program have decided to break the law. They may use my software in a manner I didn't think of. I may write software that performs only legal tasks in one jurisdiction, that in another country entirely breaks every law on the books - am I meant to know U.S. law inside out when I don't even live there? I think not.

I think this article on Slashdot was posted as being something of interest to developers worldwide, as a cause of concern to them that political and corporate actions may be making our profession essentially untenable. And I for one will not allow that to happen without causing a lot of grief.
If a few lawyers get their pride bruised along the way, I consider that a bonus.


Re:I really don't see how they could get sued. (1)

wierdo (201021) | more than 14 years ago | (#874637)

The California State Court of Appeal says yes.

California doesn't count, it's a rogue state that doesn't consider itself part of the U.S. It will be reigned in soon, when China finally does the same to Taiwan.


Re:The above comment missed the point (2)

/dev/kev (9760) | more than 14 years ago | (#874638)

In fact, would my parents not also be responsilbe for encouraging my interest in computers and technology when I was a teenager, and wouldn't those around me encouraging me to progress my careers also be responsible?

Only if they were encouraging you to write malicious stuff, or were aware that you were writing malicious stuff but turned a blind eye.

As for the soldier, well he really is just a link in the chain, since that's the way the military works. He just follows orders, he doesn't need to worry about them. He can't decide which are the "real" orders and to which ones he should say "That's immoral/unethical, I'm not going to do that". And yes, this IS straight out of "A Few Good Men".

Similarly, the scientist doesn't know a priori whether the bomb he develops will be used to wipe out a small village of innocents, or to wipe out an ammunitions dump (and possibly enemy soldiers) which is a threat to many innocents. Their "malicious" bomb may be used to save the lives of innocents just the same as it may be used to end their lives. It's "just the same" because in both cases its function is the same - it blows up.

IMHO, the commander(s) issuing the order to drop the bomb should take the responsibility, since they decide what gets used, and how.

Re:Not according to Human developement report 2000 (1)

Cederic (9623) | more than 14 years ago | (#874639)

Perhaps your value system need re-evaluation.
Personally I'd rather pay the $1.20/litre that petrol (gas) costs here in the UK than risk losing my life every time my car breaks down in the wrong part of town.

Not that my car has broken down recently..


Passing the buck?? (1)

Francis (5885) | more than 14 years ago | (#874642)

You know, this article made me angry out about courts and lawyers in several places. I could rant forever about the ridiculousness of this situation, so I'll focus on one point that particularly irritates me: "coders can't pass the buck."

Let's be realistic. It's not the coders that are passing the buck. It's easy to blame the coder. Single point of failure. In this case, if it were feasable to convict the million or so users that use Napster to illegally pirate copyrighted music, we would do so, in a pinch. But, fact of the matter is, our legal system is not a suitable mechanism to convict a million users. So, let's set this straight. The legal system isn't set up properly to deal with this situation. The courts are passing the buck to the programmer. Agreed?


Luke Troll 19:46 (1)

Troll Messiah (215206) | more than 14 years ago | (#874643)

"It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be a house of GPL,' but you have made it 'a den of pirates.'"

Re:Why change when you can force a dystopian reg.. (1)

Oscar26 (126520) | more than 14 years ago | (#874644)

While I partially agree with most of what you said, I really don't think the FBI is going to use their Carnivore boxes for "illegal" network programs like Napster (unless ordered by a judge then that is a whole different issue with different implications.)

Even they would probably consider it a waste of resources, and last I checked Congress did not give them an infinate budget to track down every illegal file transfer in the U.S.

--If Pro is opposite of Con, then is Congress the opposite of Progress?
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