None of us can claim with a straight face that we've never done anything illegal, be it speeding, drunkenly stealing a shrink-wrapped pickle from a bowling alley or hunting the homeless for sport. But on the whole, we're upstanding citizens. After all, it's not like we're out there breaking the law on a daily basis.
Wanna bet? Because all of the stuff below is illegal in most of, if not all of, the United States. If you live outside the U.S., you need to double check to see if you can get jail time for ...
#6. Connecting to Unsecure Wi-Fi Networks
Due to the current popularity of tiny computers and man's relentless desire to watch nudity absolutely everywhere, Wi-Fi hotspot usage is on the rise. Unfortunately, with that comes the problem of people, knowingly or not, connecting to unsecure wireless networks without permission. It's not like hacking the freaking Pentagon here -- if you're in public, your computer will automatically look for a signal and, if there's no security (such as a password) to get online, you can connect to it in seconds. Say you're on a park bench a block away from Starbucks, but their signal juuust reaches you. So, you log in and check your email.
And by "email" we mean "hardcore dwarf BDSM porn."
Hell, if they left it unsecured, they probably WANT people to use it, right? And even if not, it's not like it can get you thrown in prison.
Oh wait ... it totally can.
"I told you, all but one of those dwarfs consented!"
What Did I Do?!
Say hello to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which makes it a crime to gain "unauthorized access" to a computer or a website. What does "unauthorized access" actually mean? Nobody knows. But the law says it applies to wireless routers. Luckily, law enforcement has lately become more lenient in enforcing "Wi-Fi squatting" in relation to the CFAA. So they probably won't bust you for the federal crime of stealing wireless Internet (even though they totally could, if they some day feel like it), but it doesn't matter, because that's where your state's laws kick in.
"Castle Doctrine applies to your home Wi-Fi network, right?"
Almost every state out there has regulations against unlawful access to computers and networks -- a third-degree felony that carries with it a prison sentence of at least two years and up to 10 grand in fines. Yes, arrests for stealing Wi-Fi are rare because it's difficult to catch someone in the act. But don't go thinking that your Internet habits definitely won't get you shanked in the prison courtyard someday. We know of at least four cases, from Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Alaska, where people were arrested for using someone else's wireless Internet.
While ultimately none of them were charged with a felony, one man got slapped with a $400 fine and 40 hours of community service for using the unauthorized Wi-Fi connection ... to check his email.
One of these men is guilty of rape. The other was caught playing WoW behind an Arby's.
#5. Singing "Happy Birthday to You" in Public
If you ever had a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, you probably have endless fond memories: the cardboard pizza, the shitty, half-broken arcade games and soda served in the tiniest paper thimbles ever created. OK, maybe it kind of sucked in retrospect. But it could have been worse. For example, your parents could get a subpoena to appear in court for being part of a public performance of "Happy Birthday to You," which as it turns out is totally illegal.
What Did I Do?!
It's copyrighted. Usually that would only affect people who are singing it while attempting to make a profit (the lady your dad hired to jump out of your birthday cake, for instance). However, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) requested that the Girl Scouts pay royalties for "Happy Birthday to You," and other songs they'd been singing around the campfire without a single stripper, or paying customer in attendance.
There must be SOME way to get at all that sweet cookie money.
Presumably thinking that this was a prank by the girls from the camp across the lake, the Girl Scouts consulted an attorney who found that the law applied to any "public performance." Going by the strict letter of the law, you have to pay anytime you sing the song "where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered."
"Sound familiar, shit bird?"
The first version of the popular birthday song, titled "Good Morning to All," was composed way back in 1868 by sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, before the Summy Company copyrighted it in 1935, together with the now-famous lyrics. Today, that copyright belongs to Time Warner, meaning that any restaurant or movie that wants to use the song where everyone can hear it must pay the company royalties.
Artists have a right to be compensated. Or, if they're dead and have no descendants,
a faceless corporation has the right to profit from their work.
You can still sing it legally in the privacy of your own home, and you will probably get away with singing it out in the open, provided that you're not on a reality TV show. Of course, if you're anything like most small business owners, you'll just pay up because you don't want to face Time Warner in court. Enough of them pay royalties that the song garners a cool $2 million dollars a year in royalties.
Or if you want to be extra safe, you can do what many restaurant chains do and just invent your own special version of the lyrics, assuming you don't mind looking and sounding like a stupid asshole.
"Today you left your mom's vagina, now why not visit South Carolina?"
As you may imagine, the PR shitstorm that followed the girl scouts fiasco caused ASCAP to back away and deny they were serious about that whole paying royalties thing. And a private birthday party getting ratted out is probably much less likely than a giant organization like the Girl Scouts. Of course, that cuts both ways, since in the case of the Girl Scouts it was public shame, not the law, that stopped any legal action. Don't count on it to save you.
#4. Using Fake Names on the Internet
Here's an easy one. Everyone uses fake names online, be it on Facebook, Xbox Live or Gustav's Pornography Dungeon. And really, why should you give out your real identity to some random site when typing "Michael J Cocks" in the name field is both faster and more secure?
Maybe because using fake names on the Internet can get you arrested and charged with the federal crime of hacking?
What Did I Do?!
Oh, hey, look at that. It's the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act again, with its vague wording that you've probably violated over and over again in the last 24 hours.
"Sorry, sir, but your DC Universe Online handle technically counts as a false identity."
Due to the that line that makes any "unauthorized access" illegal, it can be anything from illegally accessing the White House's website and exploding the president's toilet (computers can do that, right?) to using a false name during an online registration process. After all, in both cases you're gaining access to a computer in a way that its owner didn't authorize, which constitutes "hacking" and is, according to the letter of the law, punishable with five to 20 years in prison.
In 2010, Matthew Lacroix, a Rhode Island prison guard, was arrested for creating a fake profile of his boss on Facebook. Now, to be clear, it wasn't to proclaim his boss' love for Stargate fan fiction or to commit some kind of fraud. The profile just ... existed, so in the end, Lacroix was convicted simply of using "fraudulent information" (i.e. a fake name) and had to pay $500 to the Victims Indemnity Fund. A similar thing happened with Lori Drew, a 50-year-old woman who harassed a teenage girl over Myspace until she committed suicide (OK, maybe not THAT similar). It was back when cyber-bullying laws weren't in full effect, so Drew was charged with a misdemeanor under the CFAA regulations for creating a fake Myspace profile.
If you change your legal name to Bonertron69, they've got nothing on you.
The only reason Lacroix and Drew never faced felony charges was because they didn't know it was illegal to put fake personal information on the Internet. Though we have to say, we can't remember "I didn't know it was illegal!" exempting us from any other crimes. That's actually going to come in pretty damned useful.
"It's alright, officer! I just don't understand your local laws."