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IT Confidential: Time To Ferret Out Your Secret Sharers

The announcement last week by Attorney General John Ashcroft that he had executed search warrants on five homes and one ISP in connection with alleged illegal copying and sharing of music and movie files didn't necessarily send shivers up the spines of business-technology managers, but maybe it should have. What may have been looked on once as a benign distraction is now a major federal crime. And big business isn't immune, says John Soat.

Attorney General John Ashcroft came down hard on illegal file-sharers last week by executing six search warrants, five on individuals and one on an ISP (see story, "Feds Target Scofflaws And Spammers"). "The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing intellectual-property laws, and we will pursue those who steal copyrighted materials even when they try to hide behind the false anonymity of peer-to-peer networks," Ashcroft said. That should be a wake-up call to business-technology managers--if you haven't already weeded out those secret sharers in your organizations who traffic in extracurricular MP3s, you'd better do so quick. The feds and the Recording Industry Association of America have mostly ignored big businesses, but that won't last.

Remember Roger Billings? He's the guy who sued Novell over patent infringement for what he claims was his invention, the network file system. Billings says he showed off the system at a trade show in 1982, and Novell introduced its NetWare product in 1983. Billings got a patent for the technology in 1987, then sued Novell in 1991. Thirteen years later, Billings has finally given up the ghost. According to an E-mail Billings sent to Gary Hecker, a patent lawyer representing Novell, "A long road has come to an end. I am writing to acknowledge your success. It is over, and you have won!" An appeals court recently upheld a ruling against Billings' patent, which was due to expire in December.

How stupid do they think we are? Anti-spam vendor Surf-Control reported last week that spammers have been using the possibility of obtaining Olympic medals as the latest enticement to open spam E-mails. The Google IPO has figured into a few E-mail come-ons as well.

Speaking of low-down dirty tricks, identity thieves pretending to be employees of the Federal Emergency Management Administration stole personal information from victims of storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, according to James Walsh, co-author of a new book, Identity Theft: How To Protect Your Name, Credit And Vital Information ... And What To Do If Someone Hijacks Any Of These (Silver Lake Publishing, 2004). "The confusion that follows a natural disaster like Charley is good cover for bad people," Walsh said in an E-mail statement.

No online news is good news, at least in Canada. According to a recent study of attitudes toward the news media of our neighbors to the North called "Report Card on Canadian News Media," more than half of Canadians (55%) never read any news online. By contrast, 42% of Americans never check news online. Hard to work the keyboard with those thick gloves on, I guess.

I think Ashcroft's real motivation is to keep people from illegally copying his songs. Once they hit the Internet, Ashcroft compositions like "Let The Eagle Soar" are going to burn up the wires. Send me a copy, or an industry tip, to or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about secret sharers or technology patents, meet me at the Listening Post:

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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