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“Karaoke Grandma’s” Criminal Conviction: Could File-Sharing Be A Mental Illness?

“Karaoke Grandma’s” Criminal Conviction: Could File-Sharing Be A Mental Illness?

A 58-year-old grandmother is sentenced to three years’ probation and must attend cognitive behavioral therapy sessions as part of her criminal file-sharing sentence. Violet Blue asks psychologist Dr. Keely Kolmes, PsyD, if file-sharing is now considered a disorder

This week a 58-year-old grandmother was convicted for sharing music, sentenced to three years’ probation and must attend cognitive behavioral therapy sessions as part of her criminal file-sharing sentence. To find out if file-sharing might now be considered a disorder, I asked psychologist Dr. Keely Kolmes, PsyD, to explain this unusual new twist in criminal file-sharing prosecution.

Anne Muir is a nurse and grandmother of eight who is said to have collected and shared over 7,000 music files and more than 24,000 karaoke files – making her one fun grandma to spend a Saturday night with.

BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and IFPI (International Federation for the Phonographic Industry) didn’t see it that way.

Characteristically going after someone with few resources to fight back, Scotland’s first illegal music sharing conviction had BPI and IFPI estimating she’d made £54,000 worth of copyrighted music files available to others via a peer-to-peer file sharing application.

Despite raiding her home based on complaints from BPI and IFPI, “Ms Muir did not make any money. What she did was not commercial,” said the Sheriff.

Anne Muir admitted distributing the files.

And that – the sharing part – is what’s most important when trying to understand why sentencing a file-sharer to cognitive behavioral therapy (in this case, for OCD) is pretty problematic.

Grandmother Gets File-Sharing Conviction: But Does It Mean She’s Mentally Ill?

It’s not just us tech geeks that joke about “having OCD” when it comes to our passions, especially as we love to chase down things that aren’t on the roads most traveled.

Anne Muir was a prolific user of a particular file sharing network – her lawyer didn’t tell us how (surely) awesome she is a karaoke, but he did say that Ms. Muir had used the network to build up her self-esteem after suffering from depression for a number of years.

Ms. Muir is currently the one person convicted in the UK for online copyright infringement. In addition to being sentenced to three years of probation, she has been ordered to attend mandatory cognitive therapy treatment sessions for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Joking about OCD is one thing. A criminal conviction with sentenced treatment isn’t funny.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and The File-Sharer

Muir’s treatment is specifically for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with hoarding. The court is saying that her hoarding behavior accounts for the acquisition of the files.

Dr. Keely Kolmes, PsyD, is widely recognized as one of the leading voices in American psychotherapy in regard to its emergent roles in the digital frontier. The author of A Psychotherapist’s Guide to Facebook and Twitter, she also recently wrote a NY Times Op-Ed on the challenge of consumer review sites for mental health professionals.

At first glace on Ms. Muir’s sentence Dr. Kolmes remarked, “One wonders if sharing files is antithetical to hoarding behavior. Typically, with hoarding the items are stored but not used.”

Dr. Kolmes unpacked the Court’s alleged relationship between file-sharing and OCD as seen in its ruling on Ms. Muir,

Actually, the hoarding behavior is a criterion for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, but not OCD. (See item 5 in the list below).

Diagnostic criteria for 301.4 Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

(1) is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost

(2) shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)

(3) is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)

(4) is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)

(5) is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value

(6) is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things

(7) adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes

(8) shows rigidity and stubbornness

Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Copyright 2000, American Psychiatric Association.

Dr. Kolmes tells us,

Cognitive therapy would address the hoarding, through looking at thoughts and beliefs that support the behavior (e.g. someone may have ideas that surrounding themselves with objects eases their anxiety or fears). This treatment would look at the ideas related to the acquisition of objects.

So, I don’t think we’ll be seeing file-sharers on “Hoarders” anytime soon. Or will we? The court may not have illustrated whether Ms. Muir’s karaoke collection – and devotion to sharing it – was any more excessive than other file sharers. Dr. Kolmes continues,

If the accumulation of a large number of computer files is now enough to meet the criteria for hoarding, then this would seem to be a new feature of the diagnosis and it would seem that a lot of generally high functioning computer folks would falsely qualify for the diagnosis without meeting the rest of the criteria.

Typically, the criteria includes holding on to worthless objects that take up space and create clutter or an unhealthy living environment.

Which begs the question, of who, exactly, file-sharing was unhealthy for.

Case Prosecutor Mirian Watson stated that, “Illegally flouting copyright laws is tantamount to theft and not only deprives legitimate companies and artists of earnings, but also undermines the music industry as a whole.

We will continue to work effectively with law enforcement in this area and to apply our robust prosecution policy,” she added.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of law enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing is enough to make me crazy.


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