Update: Fans of both illegally copied software and civil liberties rejoiced when the case against David LaMacchia was dropped. The judge claimed the law he was being prosecuted under simply could not be used to apply to software piracy.
Update: The Supreme Court amended the child pornography laws so that in order to be charged with sale or distribution, the government must prove that the person had prior knowledge the performer was a minor. This freed Rubin Gottesman who had been convicted for selling movies made by former adult film star Traci Lords when she was 15.
Update: Pedro Zamora, star of MTV's Real World and subject of a profile in Gray Areas (Spring 1994), died of AIDS on November 11, 1994 at the age of 22. Thanks to MTV, Zamora became one of the three most famous celebrities (along with Ryan White and Magic Johnson) to speak out as AIDS victims.
The world of music lost a legend when session musician Nicky Hopkins passed away at the age of 50 on September 6, 1994. Best known for work with The Rolling Stones and for backing up The Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, Hopkins also played with everyone from Melanie to Bay Area musicians like Jerry Garcia and John Cipollina.
Also gone but not forgotten is Jerry Rubin, best known as a 60s activist, founder of the Youth International Party and author of Revolution For The Hell Of It. Rubin surely explored the gray areas of morality. This publication would probably never exist if not for having been influenced, at least in part, by his early writings.
According to Edupage, "Minutes after the [British] Government formally joined the Internet, the department responsible for Open Government was the victim of a hacker. The Minister for Science said: "Six minutes after we went live, a man from Edinburgh University hacked into our system, decided he didn't like the design of some of our [web] pages and redesigned them. Now, in fact, he made them better, and the people who designed the pages accept that. The problem is, supposing somebody is able to hack into the system, changes the information and somebody acts on that information. Whose responsibility is it? I don't know the answer. But I think you will be reassured that we at least are posing that question." (The Guardian 12/8/94 p.10)
Computer hackers dubbed the recent busts of over 100 hackers in the U.S. (mostly in Arizona and Texas) and dozens more in several other countries (including Spain) "Operation SunDevil II." Even more hackers were questioned in what seems to be an ongoing investigation into illegal cellular telephone possession, warez piracy and Internet break-ins. Gray Areas was personally touched by this sweep as many of those questioned and arrested were people who read this publication and interacted with us on IRC and at cons. Hardest hit (so far) have been one of the many WELL crackers, a warez sysop who had mortgaged his home to fund a ten-line BBS, an MCI employee who sold calling card numbers to warez couriers around the world and the warez cracking and distribution group FiRM.
Bob Dylan is suing Apple Computer for naming a programming tool Dylan. Dylan is asking for unspecified damages to stop Apple from using his name on its software (Source: People 9/12/94, page 83)
Also suing are The Jefferson Airplane, who are unhappy with a screen-saver image featured in Berkeley Systems' After Dark. A 1973 album cover for the Airplane's Thirty Seconds Over Winterland LP featured flying chrome toasters with clocks on them. The screen-saver features very similar toasters which are facing the opposite direction but have no clocks and instead have flying pieces of toast too. (Source: Art & Design News, Nov/Dec 1994, page 11)
The Grateful Dead recently publicized that a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to Grateful Dead Productions, Inc. and the Grateful Dead Merchandising, Inc. in order to prohibit the sale of merchandise which infringes their trademarks. Typically named as "Does 1-500," these orders allow for the seizure of merchandise and arrest of up to 500 people at concerts or on the street under the supervision of the band's attorneys. (Source: The Boston Globe, November 24, 1994, page 112)
In England, performing under the name "Scanner," Robin Rimbaud has been recording and performing by using a scanner which transmits cellular telephone conversations which are illegal to listen to. He mixes these conversations with a synthesizer and recorded sound collages. His three albums, available only as imports, are illegal but no charges have been filed yet. Scanner compares what he does to playing a guitar and explains that he never knows what he will pick up. He argues that scanned phone calls are not disruptive or abusive like the prank calls of The Jerky Boys. (Source: The New York Times, December 1, 1994)
Trenton, NJ is trying to get rid of prostitution with a new law that states that anyone convicted of prostitution is prohibited from returning, for up to two years, to the 60-block area that Trenton has deemed the worst. In NJ, prostitution charges apply equally to the prostitute and the client. While the goal is clearly to establish a prostitution-free zone, and while there are about 300 prostitution arrests in Trenton per year, the ACLU awaits a test case and says that the law is unconstitutional because the U.S. doesn't permit banishment or exile as a form of punishment. (Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 13, 1994, page B1)
In an effort to curtail the spread of AIDS, the city of Cabedelo, Brazil has ruled that hotels, motels and brothels ("sex havens"), must hand out condoms every four hours. This is an interesting law since motel owners already supplied condoms and feel the law is unnecessary. Also, since the hotels rent rooms by the hour, it's interesting condoms are only offered every four hours. Well, the world is full of gray areas. (Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 14, 1995)
New York's City Council voted 47-1 to restrict for one year the opening or expansion of topless bars, theaters that offer nude dancing and adult bookstores. Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, was quoted as saying, "No one would have thought this would happen in New York City. This is a sad day for free speech." (Source: The Boston Globe, November 24, 1994, page 112)
According to Video Business (September 30, 1994, page 6,12), a California judge did not hold two video distributors liable for a teenager who committed suicide after viewing The Worst of The Faces of Death. He based his decision on a 1986 case involving Ozzy Osbourne, who was sued because someone tried to hold him responsible for the suicide of a California teenager who had listened to his song "Suicide Solution." Still being decided is the fate of the video store the tape was rented from. The parents are alleging that the video store rented tapes to the teenager after a block had been put on the account which required parental permission.
Perhaps the most interesting sting we heard about this issue was one where investigators posed as thieves peddling stolen magazines. Law enforcement officials raided nine sights and arrested 13 people in what they claim is an underground industry run by "members or associates of an Asian Indian group identified by the President's Commission on Organized Crime as the Patels." According to Patricia Dalton, deputy inspector general of the U.S. Department of Labor, "What we've done is uncovered a major theft operation that affects the distribution of every magazine in the New York area. People don't realize that many of the magazines they're reading were probably stolen." (Source: New York Newsday, December 15, 1994, page A33)
They steal art too. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer (September 7, 1994, page E1), The International Foundation For Art Research operates an Art Loss Register which is a computerized database of stolen art. It includes "more than 50,000, and every week it adds more: In 1993, it listed 1,491 items, representing 508 thefts worldwide; in the first six months of 1994, it listed 809 items, representing 235 thefts." Used as a reference tool by everyone from the FBI to Scotland Yard and Interpol, art dealers, museums, galleries and private collectors, the group has recovered over 25 million worth of art work. The article quotes IFAR's Constance Lowenthal as to the various reasons people enter the art theft business. While the number one reason is profit, sometimes the thieves get caught because they don't know how to unload the merchandise or don't know they can't openly unload the merchandise. Sometimes the buyer is ignorant and buys a replica that later turns out to have been the original. While works by legendary artists maybe more trouble than they're worth, the market for lesser-known works is clearly steady.
California recently made it illegal to operate a recording device, such as a camcorder, in a theater without the permission of the theater. The law grants theater owners the "defense of lawful detention" used by retail merchants who act reasonably to stop shoplifting in their stores. Theater owners are "immunized against suits for false arrest, false imprisonment, unlawful detention, defamation of character, assault, trespass or invasion of civil rights." (Source: Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. Press Release, September 27, 1994)
According to the Motion Picture Association, agents in Italy smashed a Mafia-run video piracy business through the cooperation of FAPAV (the Italian anti-piracy association for the film industry)and Carabinieri (the Italian law enforcement agency), Police shut down 27 video stores and arrested 63 people in six towns who were charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting and fraud against the film production and distribution industry. A total of 4,800 high-speed VCRs, 150 duplicating machines, 100,000 cassettes and 450,000 counterfeit wraps were seized. The MPA estimates that 40% of the video market in Italy is pirate and FAPAV believes 65% of video piracy involves recently released films that are currently being shown in cinemas which results in damage not only to the home video market, but also to the theatrical one. (Source: MPA Press Release, December 2, 1994)
Last year, the MPAA helped in the arrest of two men for video piracy. Both men were not first time offenders. On January 19, 1995, one of them received four months in prison and three years supervised probation after being found guilty of ten charges of copying recorded devices under the Maryland True Name and Address Statute. The second man pled guilty to five counts and was fined $1,000 and a one year suspended sentence. Some of the pirate videocassettes seized from him include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Timecop. According to Ed Pistey, Director of the MPAA's U.S. Anti-Piracy Operation, 44 states have "true name and address" statutes. Pistey was satisfied with the sentences and felt these were significant penalties in efforts to curtail video piracy which costs the motion picture companies more than $250 million annually in potential revenues. (Source: MPAA, Inc. Press Release
A Colorado judge required federal prison authorities to provide an inmate with "a black robe, incense, a gong and other implements or allow him to bring them in himself" in order to perform Satanic rituals while incarcerated (Source: The Boston Herald, October 12, 1994, page 2)
In an emerging area of law, the Prodigy Services Company was sued for $100 million for liable and negligence and an additional $100 million more in punitive damages. Prodigy agreed to help track down a user who posted an electronic message via an inactive account which accused an investment bank of fraud and other criminal activity. The account involved belonged to a former employee of the Prodigy Services Company and that it was not the first time this account had been used to post offensive messages. Prodigy also agreed to remove the offensive message, to screen messages in that area for three months, to block any messages about the investment company and to provide the court with a detailed explanation of how messages are posted, screened and monitored. (Source: The New York Times)
Among other things President Clinton's crime bill makes it illegal to transmit harmful code such as computer viruses, makes possession of a red box a felony and will prohibit all states from selling state motor vehicle information in several years. Alas, the many exceptions in the final version will now make it harder for stalkers to find their victims, but hardly impossible. There will now be a federal database to track cases of domestic violence and $150 million will be used to implement an interstate system to do background checks on people wishing to buy handguns.
Michigan has one of the broadest stalking laws in the U.S. Although all 50 states now have stalking laws on the books, Michigan is the only state to have expanded the legislation to include cyberspace. It was challenged recently when a woman accused a man of pursuing her via E-mail and on her answering machine after she told him to stop. The law makes such harassment worth a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted, then, if the woman were contacted again, felony charges would apply. The case is interesting because as the accused's lawyer pointed out "The statute could arguably criminalize what could be innocent communication. (Source: The New York Times, September 16, 1994, Page B-18)
In the largest award in this area yet, a judge awarded Cablevision Systems Corp. a $3.9 million judgment against sellers of illegal descramblers. Cablevision busted two people and seized more than 100,000 descramblers. They had been sold to distributors and consumers via both retail and mail-order. The law violated here "bars the sale of unauthorized descramblers knowing that they will be used to steal cable TV service." The decision is significant because Cablevision was able to portray to the judge "a vivid picture of an extensively, if not exclusively, illegal operation." Also, the amount of the judgment opens the door to more severe sentences in the future. (Source: New York Newsdayy, January 12, 1995, Page A-37)
California has a nasty "three strikes" law. It states that if you are convicted of any crime and it is your third conviction, you will be dealt a harsh, no mercy sentence. Recently, Jerry Dewayne Williams was found guilty of stealing a single slice of pizza from four children. A jury deliberated for nearly three days before convicting him of felony petty theft, which carries a mandatory sentence of 25-years-to-life. (Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 22, 1995)
The Secret Service and Brooklyn, New York police busted a cellular phone cloner named Jorge DeFerrari. He sold pirated numbers for a $100 each as well as cloning kits complete "with a computer virus" inserted in the discs so customers would have to go back to him for more software." Charged with forgery, criminal possession of a forged instrument, computer tampering and criminal possession of computer-related material, he stole phone numbers from cellular phones in use at the time on the highways of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Police said he avoided New York because "New York mobile phone companies have begun to use security devices that prevent such theft." No word on how he got caught. (Source: New York Newsday, January 12, 1995, Page A-28)
Back when the original concept for Gray Areas was being incubated, a perfectly gray case hit the news. It involved an overweight woman who purchased a plane ticket and was required by the airline to pay for two seats due to her weight. The airline argued that the flight was overbooked and that she needed more space than usual. They even refused to give her double frequent flyer miles. She sued, claiming the airline should have designed seats wide enough to accommodate her. We loved this case because it's easy to see both sides, but unlikely either would see the other's point of view.
Along comes an equally gray case. People who play the lottery often enjoy playing in other states by means of ticket brokers. Scott Wenner lives in New Jersey, but purchased a Texas lottery ticket through a local hardware store through Pic-A-$tate, that deals in out-of-state lottery tickets. Texas officials are denying the $10 million winning ticket. They believe the transaction Ws improper because several Texas laws were broken in the process. Pic-A-$tate is not a Texas retailer, does business over the telephone and sells Texas lottery tickets for more than face value. Wenner's lawyer says it was a good-faith purchase and the Texas Lottery Commission is not living up to their end. He also points out that "They didn't do anything about the money coming from Pic-A-$tate. But when it's money leaving, that's when they do something." Further complicating the case is the fact that the Texas Lottery concedes they have paid off previous winners from the same location, but argue that they were unaware how the tickets had been bought. (Source:The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 14, 1995, Page A-1, A-8)
The FBI recently completed a sting operation in which over
two years it bought 120 stolen cars worth $4 million for only
$140,000 (3.5% of their value). The FBI kept track of the sellers
and learned what cars they favor, how fast they work and their
views on anti-theft devices. A total of 30 men were arrested on
charges of car theft an interstate conspiracy. Half of the men
were suspected of being members of a Brooklyn, NY car-theft ring
known as the Flatbush Pulley Gang. The gang was believed to have
100 or so members and the FBI felt this bust made a big dent.
Interesting findings include the news that some thieves do ten
cars a night, "clubs" are defeated in seconds by thieves
who pour freon onto the club locks and crack them apart with a
blow, and that thieves believe the best defense is a hidden electronic
switch which cuts off power to the engine when the car is started.
If convicted, suspects would be looking at five "years in
prison for conspiracy and ten years for each count of possession
and sale of a stolen car, plus fines of $250,000 to more than
$1 million." (Source: The New York Times, September
9, 1994, Page B-1, B5)