Editor’s note: Illegal downloading and file-sharing of
movies, music, and software is widespread among college and university
students. Within the privacy of one’s home or dorm room,
its often easy to overlook the consequences of digital piracy.
The following article describes one young man’s experience
and the serious price he paid as a result. First published
on www.definetheline.com, it is reprinted with permission from
the line.com. It was forward to Kalamalama by Diane Johnson,
on behalf of the Business Software Alliance: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is pounding on the door at this crazy hour? Hackrat thought
as he rolled out of bed and threw on a pair of sweatpants. He
squinted at the clock beside his bed. 6AM! The pounding continued,
but before he could get to the door, it flew open and he faced
a swarm of police officers.
Do you know why we’re here?” the officer asked.
No! I don’t!” he said, his voice shaking.
Know anything about DrinkOrDie?” the officer asked.
Hackrat felt like he was going to throw up. His mind raced,
about the two computers sitting under his desk, each containing
literally thousands of pirated copies of movies, PS2 games,
PC games, and software applications - all of which he had
available for free download on the Internet. DrinkOrDie was
an Internet piracy ring -- and Hackrat was one of their site
Hackrat got involved initially to get free software and games
for himself when he was a freshman in college. His friends
in the dorms introduced him to all of this, he said.
When he wasn’t at class, studying, mountain biking, or
hanging out with his girlfriend, Hackrat was online - part of
a whole underground Internet piracy community. “I met tons
of people online, from all over the world. It all seemed sort
of cool -- we were all in this thing together -- us, the little
guys, against them, the big corporations. And, of course, I got
to play my games.” His girlfriend repeatedly urged him
to stop doing this nerdy stuff, Hackrat says. But, he was hooked.
Little by little, Hackrat got more and more involved until he
started running two sites of his own, which he used to supply
four large warez groups (underground Internet piracy groups).
It never occurred to him that he’d get busted. But
here were armed FBI agents and police officers, searching
confiscating his home computer and laptop, advising him of
his rights, and telling him he was going to need a lawyer.
The days that followed were a blur, as he met with the federal
prosecutor, found a lawyer, was charged with criminal copyright
infringement, was arraigned in U.S. District Court, pled guilty,
and was convicted of conspiracy, a felony charge under Title
18, Section 371 of the US Code. He faced a statutory maximum
sentence of five years in federal prison, a fine of $250,000,
and possible payment of restitution to the victims of his copyright
But worse than facing all of this, says Hackrat, was facing his
father and telling him what he had done.
About nine months before I was busted,” Hackrat recalls,
my father called me on the phone in the middle of the night and
said, ‘Son, I don’t know what you’re involved
in, I don’t want to know what you’re involved
in - but, whatever it is, you need to knock it off!’
At the time, I just said, ‘Yeah, Dad, whatever.’ You
know, you just think you’re invincible -- that nothing
will actually ever happen to you”
Hackrat’s voice trailed off. There was a long silence.
Then, he continued. “My dad had a heart attack—literally,
an actual heart attack—two weeks after I was busted.
I know it was because of me, because of how upset he was
about what I had done. I have never felt so guilty in my
As news of Hackrat’s bust hit the newspapers, many of his
friends, as well as his girlfriend, hit the road. “When
you’re in this kind of trouble, you find out who your friends
really are,” Hackrat said. “When I was into the warez
scene, I thought ‘I’m not hurting anybody.’ But
you really have no idea what kind of impact you’re
going to have on your loved ones, on the people around you.
These days, Hackrat spends a lot of time traveling around
the country talking with kids and teens about what he’s
been through and trying to help them understand that copying
materials is just plain illegal.
He knows the temptations that are out there for kids to download. “I know
kids think, ‘Hey, it’s free, it’s easy, and you can brag to
your friends if you’re the first to have something like a new game or a
new movie,’” Hackrat observed.
But kids have to understand that downloading something on the Internet for free
without paying for it is the same as stealing from a candy store. The rules in
real life apply to life on the Internet. When you’re a kid, you think you’re
invincible and will live forever and nothing is any big deal,” said
I had to find out the hard way. Copyright infringement is a big deal. No one
told me what I was doing was wrong. I didn’t think I was breaking the law.
But I was and I’m paying the price. I tell every kid I meet: Ignorance
of the law is no defense!”
Author Melanie G. Snyder has written for more than a dozen parenting magazines
across the United States and Canada, as well as for children’s magazines
and education publishers. Visit her at: MelanieGSnyder.com.