How serious is copyright infringement?
March 12, 2010 2:17 PM   Subscribe

How serious is copyright infringement for a government job? Polygraph test is likely for this job, as it would come with a Top Secret clearance. I'm in college with an internship possibility ahead and I have no drug/criminal history (not even traffic violations), except for downloading music/movies semi-regularly. Do I include this on the application paperwork under "computer misuse" or leave it out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had a friend in this situation. He didn't say anything about it. Right before he was scheduled to take his polygraph test, he happened to read that software piracy was a felony (under the right circumstances). So, after the polygraph, the guy administering the test was like "so, what was up with that spike under the 'did you commit a felony' question?" And my friend explained about the software. They didn't take it too seriously, and if I recall they offered him the job. However, this was several years ago, almost certainly a different government agency, etc etc etc.
posted by wyzewoman at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2010

First, stop doing it yesterday. On the forms admit doing it in the past. Then you have no problems with the tests. Most of it is just being truthful. They want to know what you have done. They want to know you are being truthful. They want to know you will admit a mistake.

If you have flexible varieties of "truthiness", that sets their alarm bells off.
posted by sanka at 2:27 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may not even come up, as Top Secret doesn't usually require a polygraph, except when your form and background check turn up conflicting information. TS/SCI, or any of it's variants, almost always does, though.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:42 PM on March 12, 2010

Stop it now. Delete anything you have. Come clean. They won't care. Plus you'll be able to say you haven't in a year, or however long it takes to get to the poly stage of your application.

This procedure has worked for a handful of recent graduates I know getting TS.

Get a netflix and itunes account with all the money you'll be rolling in soon.
posted by fontophilic at 2:42 PM on March 12, 2010

From what I understand, it's pretty important to disclose the info. In fact, I remember following a link awhile ago that had a bunch of judge's comments on whether people were granted TS clearance... numerous people had committed serious drug-related offences and other felonies, but the fact that they had made it clear that the behavior was no longer occurring and that, most importantly, had initially disclosed the behavior was acceptable.

Again, anecdotally, the most important thing is not that you are a goody two-shoes as that you don't have anything that could be held against you or used to bribe you into compromising national security.
posted by speedgraphic at 2:45 PM on March 12, 2010

Remember what George Costanza said to Jerry before his polygraph: "Just remember, it's not a lie if you believe it."
posted by tastybrains at 2:48 PM on March 12, 2010

Admit it. Focus especially on you time-shifting movies and episodes of TV that you legally had license to (via your cable subscription), and then "well, of course, there are some other things too." But those were youthful indiscretions, and you stopped doing it long ago.
posted by zpousman at 2:54 PM on March 12, 2010

Make sure you don't confuse copyright infringement with piracy, first off all! Just say that you have "downloaded music". So has every other applicant under 35.
posted by spaltavian at 2:58 PM on March 12, 2010

Recruiters for the CIA and the State Department come to my university every semester, and they have both said that these forms are mostly to get you to admit everything before you're hired so that you don't have a deep dirty secret that can be used against you in the future (to get information, to blackmail you, etc.). The government wants you to be honest, but they don't really care about your forays into, say, weed or underage drinking or illegally downloading entertainment.

That said, the advice to stop doing this ASAP is good advice, if only so you can say "I haven't done it in X weeks/months" if you're asked about it in your interview.
posted by rebekah at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2010

Man this issue keeps coming up on Askme. Regardless of the type clearance they are almost always looking for two things. 1. Do you have a habit of lying? 2. Is there something in your life history that could make you susceptible to blackmail or bribery? Which means do you have something to hide or something that could cause financial trouble? Stuff like gambling, not paying taxes, extremely serious or current drug issues, hanging out with really really shady people, spending two years "backpacking" in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Basiclly don't lie and tell your references to not lie.
posted by Procloeon at 3:24 PM on March 12, 2010

I don't really know how many people that have answered here have actually done this for Secret/Top Secret clearance. I have. My answer is above, and I'd advise you to heed it.
posted by sanka at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2010

I had a TS when I was in the service. I answered the form truthfully that I had Napstered in college. It did come up in the interview and the agent asked detailed questions about it for maybe 5 minutes or so.
I got the clearance so it coulnd't have been that much of an issue, and they didn't talk about it with the people they interviewed about my past.
Like spaltavian said there probably aren't many under 35 year olds who can say no, and, speculating, I think its more suspicious if somenone young claims they have never done it.
posted by Crashback at 3:35 PM on March 12, 2010

Read this. And download their pdf on how to beat a polygraph test.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:41 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Copyright infringement is usually a civil, not criminal, matter. Are you selling bootleg DVDs on the street? Do you run a warez site? If not, forget about it.

Also, polygraph tests are bullshit. Much like voodoo spells and the cold remedy placebos you see by the checkout counter, they only work if you believe in them. (FMRI. on the other hand, shows some promise. But I don't think they're subjecting anyone to that just yet!)
posted by brain at 5:44 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) If this is an internship, I think it's extremely unlikely you'll be polygraphed. Getting a TS (probably an interim TS, in your case, since the investigation and adjudication for a full TS usually takes at least six months) is not at all the same as being polygraphed. Less than half of TS holders have polygraphs. And if you were going to need one, you'd likely be informed of that very early on.

2) I'm friends with an uber-geek who used to be a blue-badger for CIA. He admitted to pirating movies during his polygraph, passed without difficulty, and was simply told to never do it again.
posted by Gnarly Buttons at 5:51 PM on March 12, 2010

They don't care. Just don't lie about it. You'd be amazed at some of the guys who get a TS...
posted by Xezlec at 8:10 PM on March 12, 2010

First off, don't lie. Moving on...

Regarding copyright infringement: For it to be a felony, it must be
(1) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain or (2) involve the reproduction or distribution of one or more copies of a work or works within a 180-day period with a total retail value of $1,000.
That's from here, the work of Laura N. Gasaway, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Professor of Law at UNC.

So, did you profit off of it or produce copies hitting $1,000.00 of value in six months? If not, then you absolutely did not commit a felony.

Regarding the poly: No, TS clearances do not require a poly by default. No, not even TS/SCI clearances require a poly by default.

And perhaps most overlooked so far, almost no polygraphs will cover this area. Seriously. The vast majority of polygraphs are CI polygraphs, which are only trying to determine if you are already working for the country's adversaries. That's it. And most agencies with cleared staff use the CI poly exclusively.

During a CI poly, they don't care if you smoke pot, they don't care if you rob liquor stores, and they certainly don't care if you copied Star Trek.

Here's all they will (and all they CAN) ask you about in a CI poly:
• Espionage
• Sabotage
• Terrorism
• Intentional unauthorized disclosure of classified information
• Intentional unauthorized foreign contacts
• Deliberate damage or malicious misuse of a U.S. government or defense system
That's from the an explanation of the CI poly produced by the DOE, the organization responsible for America's entire stockpile of nuclear weapons. Is your internship going to be more sensitive than that?
posted by NortonDC at 8:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Polygraph test is likely for this job, as it would come with a Top Secret clearance.

This, as others have pointed out, does not necessarily follow. You don't need a polygraph for TS, and even if you do get polygraphed, the most common one is the "CI scope," which only asks about espionage; they're not delving into your MP3 collection habits on that one. It's only on "Lifestyle" or "Full Scope" polygraphs that they would be verifying information from your application other than the CI questions.

I don't really think that downloading music or movies qualifies as 'computer misuse' as they are really considering it, but I haven't read the regulations defining computer misuse. If 'misuse' in that context means felony-level infringement or more, you could honestly respond 'no' if you've just been watching torrented TV shows like just about everyone else. But you should figure out exactly what they're asking for to be sure.

Looking at “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information” section 41, it seems to me that run of the mill copyright infringement doesn't come near to being a disqualifying condition under the "Use of IT Systems" guideline, so as long as you pick your description of your conduct appropriately it wouldn't seem likely to DQ you. That's just my wild-ass-guess looking over the regs though, and it's possible they've changed from 2005, so you should do your own homework too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:17 PM on March 12, 2010

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