Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be PIRATES!

Question

My son is going to his first year at a major university and is an avid file swapping user. How concerned should I be about him getting into trouble at school if he uses this software?

- Julian

Answer

This question was answered on August 14, 2007. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

(See our CNN video segment on this topic at: http://tinyurl.com/2gomuo )

File sharing networks that allow users to share songs, video, software or any kind of computer files got there start when a college student created a free program called Napster in 1999.

Napster allowed the students at that particular campus to quickly search other students hard drives for specific songs and to download them once they were located.

This peer-to-peer sharing network eventually made it out to the Internet, which allowed millions of users to swap music files without having to pay.

What started out as a home grown project to allow 30 or so pals to share their music collection, turned into a revolutionary way for anyone to share anything.

In February of 2001, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claimed that over 2.79 billion songs were traded during that month alone which all violated copyright laws and cost the music industry untold millions in revenue (Ironically, Napster is now a legal music downloading service that has nothing to do with the student that created the original program.)

Our kids grew up with this technology, so most of them think that its OK because everyone does it They see this unquestionably illegal activity as no different then speeding&its only a problem if you get caught.

The problem for parents of avid file-swappers (and many parents have no idea that their children are engaging in this activity) is that they are sending their children right into one of the biggest targets of the RIAA; major universities.

A survey last year suggested that 50% o college students engage in illegal file sharing and thats why the RIAA will continue to target universities Last year over 15,000 complaints were filed by the RIAA at 25 schools, which led to punishment from the universities that ranged from stern e-mail warnings to semester-long suspensions.

The RIAA also offered to settle out of court with those accused of illegal file swapping to avoid lawsuits and records Press reports and attorneys that were involved with some of the cases estimated that the average settlement was around $4,000.

The risk of using programs like KaZaa, LimeWire, eDonkey, WinMX, eMule or any of the BitTorrent software programs (just to name a few - here is a fairly comprehensive list ) has now gone way beyond the potential of just being caught by the RIAA

Another major concern for anyone (not just college students) that participated in these file swapping networks is becoming a victim of identity theft or other malicious activity from cyber-criminals.

The bad guys figured out how to get into millions of computers without a trace; post infected files that appear to be popular songs, movies or software programs on file swapping networks.

Once the file is downloaded and attempted to be run, the hidden program can silently install itself onto the victims system, while the victim thinks that they downloaded a dud file.

Any number of malware programs such as viruses, worms, Trojan horses, key-loggers (one of the favorite tools of the identity thieves), spyware and adware can easily sneak into your system while you think you are getting away with downloading a movie or song for free.

If you want to see if your child has installed any P2P software, check your list of programs (Start/All Programs) or go to the Add/Remove option in the Control Panel and look at the list of programs that is currently installed (if you are not sure, get help  this one is too important to let it slide!)

Parents need to add discussing this very real danger to all of the frank discussions they should have with their college-bound children as this one could cost both students and parent dearly if it is not taken seriously.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on August 14, 2007