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   updated 3:00 a.m.  8.Jul.99.PDT

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MailZone's New MP3 Monitor
by Joe Ashbrook Nickell

3:00 a.m.  8.Jul.99.PDT
Better think twice about emailing your friends MP3 files from work.

Electronic messaging service provider Allegro says it has implemented MP3 file attachment-blocking capabilities in its MailZone service. It allows corporate clients to filter out the popular digital music files from all incoming and outgoing email.

Read Wired News' ongoing MP3 coverage
Browse Webmonkey's MP3 Guide

In a statement that has raised eyebrows around the digital music industry, Allegro claimed it will soon be able to determine the difference between legal and illegal MP3 files. The company said users who traffic in pirated digital music will be reported to corporate IT managers.

"If a company has an illegal music file on their server -- whether or not the file was put there by an employee or the company president -- it's a huge liability issue for the company," said Richard Bliss, vice president of marketing for Allegro, based in Dayton, Ohio.

MailZone customers -- including Continental Airlines, Domino's Pizza, Amtrak, NASCAR, and the New York Transit Authority -- route all incoming and outgoing email through Allegro servers, which scan messages for viruses and numerous file attachment types, according to company specs.

The service, which launched in January, monitors only Internet email traffic. Internal company email is not monitored.

"It's basically an email firewall," said Bliss.

By the end of the summer, MailZone will be able to compare music files with a database of legitimate, free-to-redistribute files and determine whether email redistribution has been authorized by the original copyright holder, said Bliss. He declined to explain how the technology works.

Even if users change the artist or copyright information built into the file, Bliss said his company will be able to nail pirates.

"We have the ability to identify and compare the audio track itself," he said.

Such monitoring is technically possible, said David Weekly, a digital-audio consultant who made news early this year when he hacked the Rio portable MP3 player. But it could lead to innocent users being reported for piracy.

"They're basically talking about a NetNanny of MP3, except in this case, instead of blocking what they know is bad content they're only going to allow content they're certain is legitimate. Calling an unfamiliar file a pirated file sounds insidious," said Weekly.

"Allegro clearly doesn't know all the things that people have perfectly legitimate and legal reasons for using and owning and exchanging," agreed Tara Lemmay, president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

For example, individuals can legally rip (that is, digitize) music from CDs and email the music to themselves for personal use, said Steve Grady, vice president of marketing for EMusic.com, a music download site formerly known as GoodNoise.

"If I encode an MP3 file on my computer and send it to my email [address] at work, how does MailZone know that's a legal file versus an illegal one sent to me by a friend?" asked Grady. "It seems like a lot of hassle for them to deal with something that I think isn't a big problem. People could just as easily transfer the files using FTP or ICQ. Email is only one way of moving illegal files around, if someone is intent on doing that."

Critics agree that, ultimately, employers can legally ban or reroute anything they wish within their own buildings and computer systems.

"Companies can set up whatever terms they'd like to for internal use," said Lemmay.

Related Wired Links:

Library Computers Logged Off

Library Filters Must Go

Filtering Out the Filters

Is Big Brother -- or His Server -- Watching You?

Snooping on Workers Goes PC

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