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Morality and Legality in the Online World

Just because plagiarism is legal, it does not make it right. By the same token, are some forms of copyright infringement right, even though they are illegal? In today’s online world, as tough as it is to determine what is and is not legal, it is still easy to determine right from wrong.

Two friends of mine, Chris Pirillo, and Jake Ludington are pushing this concept to the limit with their Microsoft Windows Vista torrent stream. Anticipating the trouble Microsoft is having providing enough bandwidth to allow everyone to download the new Microsoft beta 2 of Vista, Chris and Jake created Vistatorrent seeding a torrent stream of the Vista beta 2 software, complete with its own MD5 hash. The MD5 hash allows you to check your version of the download for accuracy even if you downloaded it elsewhere.

Will Microsoft shut down this unofficial mirror? Although it is not a hack, or a crack, it may technically still infringe Microsoft’s intellectual property. Far from damaging Microsoft, however, Vistatorrent benefits Microsoft by shouldering much of the bandwidth burden associated with the Vista downloads. Most intellectual property powerhouses ignore this helping-rather-than-hurting argument as being far outweighed by the potential damage associated with unfettered distribution of their intellectual property. In this case, however, the impeccable reputation of Messrs. Pirillo and Ludington, combined with the MD5 hash check makes this a bird of quite a different feather.

Right or wrong, Microsoft could throw enough lawyers, guns and money at this issue to make it go away instantly. Anticipating this, Chris Pirillo has noted that he would take down the mirror upon request. Hopefully, however, Microsoft sees the long term advantage of facilitating such activities, of helping people help Microsoft. Hopefully this it the beginning of a new online era—one in which morality and common sense trumps the aging laws of copyright.

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