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Used software, hackers and other e-mail


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 1999

It is time to check the e-mailbag.

I believe statements regarding the legalities of selling used software were simplistic, incomplete and thereby misleading. The article (May 17) may be accurate as it relates to games, but for many serious software packages it is not.

The writer says software companies expect consumers to "retire" the earlier versions when they buy upgrades. Therefore, reselling "is stealing; morally and legally." Software companies vigorously defend their products and copyrights. In April, for example, Microsoft sued 15 Florida companies, accusing them of illegally selling versions of its software.

If resales were a problem, I'm sure those software companies would go after those who sell used software as well. Product upgrades and their costs have long been a sore point with consumers. If reselling is a legal option to recoup some of the investment -- and the story clearly pointed out what is required for a legal transaction -- then there seems to be nothing wrong with the practice.

Consumers have other choices, too. They can, as you suggest, keep the older versions and let them collect dust, or donate them to a charitable organization or school.

Hackers are not just computer breakers. It's a cyberculture that happens on- and offline. So next time someone says hackers, don't think of bad things!

There are hackers -- and there are crackers. In this case, the writer is referring to the coverage of the recent Melissa virus. A hacker was blamed for the virus.

I had a conversation and an e-mail exchange last year with a Tampa lawyer who objected to what he called the misuse of the term "hacker" in the Times. Originally, he said, its connotation was about creativity, pushing the limits of technology to discover new or improved uses. In recent years, it has turned derogatory and is used to refer to those who break into computer systems or write malicious code. Those people also have been called crackers by those in the industry.

I think we have to use the terms as the public understands them, and in this case hacker is what the public associates with those who are up to no good. A headline such as "Virus blamed on cracker" or a story referring to crackers probably would be misread as a colloquial reference to a rural Floridian.

I was interested to know whether you did any research on (Site Seeing, May 10). Their deal sounds a little too good to be true. is one of several companies springing up that offer "free" or almost-free computers in exchange for consumers signing contracts for Internet access or some other service. Since most are new companies, they have little or no history on which to gauge reliability.

In the same issue, we had a story about other such companies. That story included a warning that consumers need to read the fine print in the agreements, which can include stiff penalties for early cancellation. A mention in our section is not an endorsement. Consumers need to take precautions, and you seem to have a healthy dose of skepticism starting out.

I also received the same e-mail (about bogus America Online billing problems) and did in fact fill it out. Right after I sent it I noticed that AOL mentions several times that it will never ask for password or credit card information. I was so embarrassed that an intelligent woman could be fooled into something like this that I canceled the credit card but didn't want to tell anyone what had happened.

Fortunately, three readers did want to tell someone what happened. They contacted us about their experiences, which turned into our story on online scams (April 26). They may have prevented someone else from falling into one of these online traps.

-- Readers can send questions, comments and suggestions to, or to P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Comments may be edited and paraphrased for clarity and space.

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