PARENTS' CORNER: What Every Parent Should Know About Illegal File Sharing

Stealing music on the Internet is every bit as wrong as stealing goods from a store. Yes, it’s against the law. And, yes, offenders can be prosecuted in criminal court and sued for damages in civil court. But what if the offender is a minor? Well, for one thing, that doesn’t make the activity any less a crime. For another, it may subject the offender's parents or guardians to legal action. The fact is that civil liability can extend to the parents of under-age offenders, even if they were unaware that their child had been stealing. It’s a chilling thought. While you’re downstairs watching TV, thinking your teenager is upstairs studying, he or she could be doing something illegal that could land you in court.

Even more shocking is the fact some illicit “peer-to-peer” networks, such as Kazaa, actually commandeer a portion of the hard drive on your computer for illegal downloading and uploading by network members around the world. Once you register with them, all the files on your computer hard drive can be fair game. Depending on the settings you choose, peer-to-peer users can explore your computer to find private financial information; confidential, personal and professional data; and other sensitive documents. It works like this: when a computer user signs up to become a member of one of these so-called “peer-to-peer” networks, they designate a special file and a certain amount of hard-drive capacity that can be accessed by any other member of the network. That means anybody, in any country, anywhere in the world, who has a computer and Internet access, can access the computer in your home and make illegal unauthorized copies of the music and anything else contained in that location. Once your child becomes a member, other members — who could be anybody from the kid down the street to someone half way around the globe — can access the computer and its contents in your house.

Remember, the Internet is a tremendous learning tool that represents a great technological advance for society. But right now, it’s a lot like the Wild West. Everyone, from the most seemingly innocent teens to the hardest of hardened criminals, is out there surfing cyberspace with very few rules—and even less enforcement—to maintain order. If you haven’t been paying much attention to what your children are doing on their —or your— home computer, it’s probably time to get involved in a sensible and supportive way.

Reprinted with permission from, among other sources.

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