"You Can't Stop Us": Walking Down a Dark Internet Lane

- by Renee Roberts

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Incredibly, even though "Discantus" stole millions of listings, no problemo, all is forgiven, he is back in business on ABE, selling print--on-demand titles from other universities and government agencies.

After much protest, my dissertation was finally removed from ABE. The last time I checked, the USA database of doctoral dissertations appears to have been expurgated from "Discantus'" offerings as well. "Discantus" is down to a measly 26,312 listings. However, if you or anybody you know deposited a dissertation with UMI, you may wish to consider contacting them and explicitly asking that they restrict the publication of your dissertation, unless you want it to be exploited in the same manner as mine was. They are selling and reselling these materials commercially and they do not care if someone else copies and sells them too. If you want a dissertation published, there are many excellent ways in which to do that on your own.

Moral black holes are not confined to Internet book sales. As a postscript, a number of years ago I agreed to sub for part of a year in a high school programming class. I was teaching adolescent males C++. When I got to the class, I discovered that in the absence of any teacher who knew anything at all about computers, the boys had already taken over the school's network, including the root administrator login, and had set up remote access to the computers through other machines. They were using them and a series of other UNIX boxes to jump around and hack into other computers, and download a wide variety of wildly inappropriate materials, including safecracking tools that enabled them to break into other accounts.

When I confronted my young charges, I was told "you can't stop us." They thought that on the Internet no civilized rules or morality applied. The next morning, when they arrived, they discovered that I had disabled the entire computer network. Every single cable connecting a keyboard, modem, printer, and computer had been removed and was locked up. I passed out C++ textbooks and told them that I would be perfectly happy reading about programming for the rest of the semester.

One of these students eventually went to M.I.T. and became a tech support guy; another was arrested for breaking into computers and stealing people's bank accounts; and a third perfected his skills and went on to found Napster. There are probably a few of my ex-students selling books on the Internet, running major websites, and developing scholarly databases.