By Jeremy Reimer | Published: August 24, 2007 - 12:32PM CT
Chalk up another new-found power to the Motion Picture Association of America: the ability to force someone to change operating systems. Scott McCausland, who pleaded guilty last September in 2006 to the crime of uploading Star Wars: Episode III to the site Elitetorrents.com, was charged with "conspiracy to commit copyright infringement" and "criminal copyright infringement" by the FBI.
This charge carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. He wound up serving five months in prison and is now on probation. The probation, however, has now taken a strange turn into forced platform advocacy.
"I had a meeting with my probation officer today and he told me that he has to install monitoring software onto my PC. No big deal to me; that is part of my sentence," he wrote on his Lost and Alone blog. "However, their software doesn't support GNU/Linux (Which is what I use). So, he told me that if I want to use a computer, I would have to use an OS that the software can be installed on." The monitoring software in question is only available for Microsoft Windows. Neither Linux nor a Macintosh running OS X would be an acceptable platform.
McCausland says that he is neither a coder nor a Linux guru, and that he does not want to go back to jail. He also reiterated that he does not want to circumvent the terms of his probation. He just isn't sure why the government is allowed to force him to switch operating systems. He also says that his lawyer agrees with his point of view. In the mean time, he has added a donation link to his blog to help pay for the cost of a Windows license.
Jokes about "nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to use Windows" aside, this case should be put up alongside the RIAA's suing of grandmothers and dead people as an example of the absurdity of current copyright law enforcement. While McCausland was a site admin on Elitetorrents and uploaded the Star Wars movie six hours before it was shown in theaters, after which it was downloaded more than 10,000 times in 24 hours, the punishment for this crime does seem out of proportion in terms of the harm it caused to the copyright owners.