Hackers (or "crackers") used to justify their computer break-ins with the catchy claim that "information wants to be free." But the last decade's boom in computer crime, identity theft, and digital copyright infringement has tarnished any appeal that motto once held in the popular imagination. Still, people may be surprised at just how restrictive the legal constraints are on unauthorized access to, or sharing of, information. For example, people who inappropriately share an individual user code and password to access an online publication may not only be infringing a copyright, but may also be guilty of a crime. That, anyway, is the upshot of the decision by a federal court in California in Therapeutic Research Faculty v. NBTY, Inc. In that case, the court refused to dismiss civil claims brought against defendants who allegedly abused a limited subscription to a copyrighted medical database. The plaintiff claimed violation of the Copyright Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. For companies that use licensing agreements to manage their provision of copyrighted material over the Internet, the ruling may provide additional ammunition for going after unscrupulous licensees. Moreover, since those statutes also provide the basis for criminal liability, the court's reasoning means that those who abuse a subscription to an online publication may not only be civilly liable, but could -- at least in theory -- be subject to prosecution as well.
© Copyright 2007 Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Steptoe & Johnson LLP