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Student indicted for computer fraud

A federal grand jury indicted an MIT student last week in what the prosecutor's office called "a computer fraud scheme" which resulted in "the piracy of an estimated million dollars in software."

David LaMacchia, 20, a junior in electrical engineering and computer science, was charged on April 7 with conspiring to commit wire fraud. The indictment charges that between November 21, 1993, and January 5 of this year, "he operated a computer bulletin board service that permitted users to copy copyrighted business and entertainment software without paying to purchase the software," according to the announcement from the United States attorney for the district of Massachusetts. The announcement said the bulletin board was operated without authorization on MIT computer work stations and was accessible through the Internet.

A statement issued by Mr. LaMacchia's lawyers called the indictment a "test case" and Mr. LaMacchia a "guinea pig." The defense statement issued by lawyers Harvey A. Silverglate and David Duncan said that it was "not at all clear that a SYSOP [computer systems operator] commits a crime in such a situation. This prosecution presumably will decide whether current criminal law would penalize a SYSOP who neither controls what is placed on the system nor profits one cent from any copyrighted software that others upload to and download from the system that he and others create and operate."

MIT computer specialists discovered in December that a computer was being used to distribute software. That information was turned over to the MIT Campus Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. MIT personnel cooperated in the subsequent FBI investigation. The machine was located in the Student Center complex.

A version of this article appeared in the April 13, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 29).

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