Networking

Members offer advice on stopping illegal client behavior without hurting your career

A consultant learned that a client's staff was illegally copying and distributing media content but his firm told him to ignore it. A fellow TechRepublic member offered a plan to stop the activity and make himself look good in the client CIO's eyes.

We’ve all seen the hidden camera shows on which a television host sets up a situation to test a person’s moral fiber—will they return the bank bag full of money they discover at the ATM? Will they try to stop illegal or criminal behavior if given the opportunity? It's a difficult position to be in. A TechRepublic member, Zlito, working on a consulting contract at a major enterprise, recently experienced his own moral and ethical dilemma:

"I am a contract worker for a company with five global offices. I was asking a full-time tech staffer a question and noticed that he was watching the new movie Matrix that he had loaded on his computer. I related how I loved the first one and was going to see the second at the movies. He said don’t go—and then copied the movie for me. He told me that everyone at the company gets any movie or program free—all they have to do is ask any of the techs to get copies. I love the contract I’m working on, and know that if I say anything about this illegal conduct it could cost me this and other contracts. Yet I know it isn’t right to let it continue. What would you do?"

TechRepublic members quickly jumped to help Zlito, offering advice and noting, as Oldefar did, that the situation wasn’t new: “You know what is right, but it’s not an easy choice.” Whatever decision Zlito decided to make was one that he would have to live with, added Oldefar.

“Somewhere along the way somebody passed on a poem to me…and the message has stayed with me. There is one person whose opinion is most important. You can't lie to him, you can't fool him, and you can't hide what your real motives are from him. He's the person looking back at you from the mirror every morning,” wrote Oldefar.

Other TechRepublic members expressed opinions on what Zlito should do, stating that the best course is following the law and making sure Zlito himself doesn’t become entangled in the piracy action.

“In the United States, the copyright law is pretty clear on this part of the issue anyhow. If this is in a foreign country, you owe it to yourself to check the local copyright laws and how they apply to the situation. My concern for you is, now that you know what is going on, you can be considered an accessory after the fact,” stated TheChas.

TheChas, as well as several other TR members, noted that there are a myriad of issues to consider beyond the theft of media content. They wondered if the client company leaders realized how much bandwidth was being used and what it was costing the company.

Zlito’s initial response on learning about the illegal copying was to contact his contracting firm and explain what was happening. His employer told him “don’t rock the boat” because the client was a good contract. His choice then was either to stay and hope for a new placement, or leave.

“I am just doing my job and hopefully I will be out with no problem,” he wrote to colleagues.

Taking the high road
TheChas believed that Zlito did have another option—to make a stand against the illegal action and not get fired. TheChas advised Zlito to first document his conversation with the consulting firm to avoid future legal action if it arose. He then mapped out a plan to get client management to act appropriately to end the illegal copying, without causing problems for Zlito's employer or himself.

The plan, which TheChas described as “taking the high road,” would also boost Zlito’s career in the client’s eyes—the CIO would likely appreciate the plan and solution.

In addition to the bandwidth costs that the file-sharing networks are costing the client, wrote TheChas, a number of other factors should convince the CIO to shut down the activity. Here’s TheChas' action plan:
  • Explain to the client CIO how real the virus threat can be. It’s likely that many files on the peer-to-peer networks are infected.
  • Explain the security lapse the illegal action poses. To be part of the file-sharing network, you must allow access to at least one folder on your PC. Allowing the peer-to-peer networks to access a corporate network leaves a gaping security hole.
  • Explain the Super Digital Millennium Copyright Acts. The movie industry is working on a state-by-state campaign to get SDMCA laws on the books. Part of these acts allows the movie industry to access any computer network it suspects of having illegitimate copies of files on them without a search warrant.

TheChas recommended that Zlito use this information to put together a proposal to the CIO (or his highest level contact) to reduce Internet costs and improve network security.

“The problem is solved, and you look good to the CIO,” stated TheChas.

Zlito responded that, while it's a good plan, it likely wouldn’t work with the current situation.

“I had thought about [doing] something like that but I was invited to a company get together, and guess what—another new movie is to be shown after the meeting with the CIO and his staff there. This happens once a month or so. I am giving two weeks today and will find a less stressful job in fast food or something,” he related.

In sympathizing with the dilemma, TheChas advised Zlito to make sure the stressful situation didn't create health issues.

“I don't think there is a more stressful situation than working for a company whose moral values are far below your own. When I was laid off from a firm that had rotten moral values, my health improved significantly,” he wrote, noting that Zlito still had the option to turn the company in to industry regulators.

“I would consider waiting a reasonable length of time, and then sending an anonymous letter to the RIAA and/or Motion Picture Association. You could even have a friend mail it from a different state.”

TechRepublic member Maxwell Edison concurred and had a stronger opinion of what Zlito should ultimately do when he exits the client site.

“I’d blow the whistle on the jerks, and if it cost me any money I’d sue the company for big bucks. If you are personally injured (loss of income) just because you report a crime, then they’re opening up a huge can of worms for themselves,” he advised.

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