A student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US has written an article about an otherwise unpublicised case of a band of students that kept a peer-to-peer file sharing network running on campus so that users of the network could illegally obtain copyrighted material. The story needs to be told, so I'm running it here.
The student is my son, Dan, and his story is hardly a finger-pointing exercise. He identified himself as one of the many students who used the network to illegally obtain extensive libraries of music, movies and software. It clearly wasn't an easy story for him to write.
"Truth is what, in the end, really sealed it for me," he told me. "I do not want to hide the truth." He knew that if he didn't write the story, it would remain untold.
Dan wrote the story as a contributor to and former editor in chief of WPI's newspaper, The Towers. However, for reasons that are unclear to me, the editorial staff at the newspaper has yet to post the story on its Web site (the last print edition of the term has already been circulated). So Dan has released the story to me. It follows in its entirety.
In the Lair of the 40 Thieves
You already know who they are.
You've known since the earliest weeks of your freshman year, when you first logged in to WPI's campus-wide file sharing network. You probably didn't recognize their pseudonyms, and you most likely didn't know them by their real names. Perhaps, when you first got on, they hadn't even banded together yet. But they were still there.
They were the ones who kept the wheels of the internal peer-to-peer network turning. They were the ones who ran the DC++ hubs, who wrote the code that kept those hubs a step ahead of the IT security personnel at WPI's Network Operations Center. They were the ones who shared their files and took requests for new content; the ones who met in secret and conversed only through encrypted channels.
When they decided to band together early last year, they called themselves the 40 Thieves. And even if you've never downloaded an illegal file in your life, if you're a student at WPI you've most likely heard about them anyway. You probably even know that last month, the 40 Thieves were shut down and DC++ was disabled.
But what you may not know is why-or, more appropriately, why now, over a year after they were first formed-NetOps cracked down; why a select four students have been summoned before WPI's Campus Hearing Board on charges of violating the Code of Conduct, and why the rest of the group was not. The short answer is that a few of the 40 Thieves allegedly got greedy. The long answer, of course, will take a bit more explanation.