wow. it's like Napster Bombs... from the enemy...
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Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 15:55:35 -0700 (PDT)
July 11, 2002
Record Industry Plants Decoys
To Foil Fans of Free Web Tunes
By NICK WINGFIELD
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
For years, the recording industry has tried to stamp out music piracy on
the Internet by suing services that allow song-swapping. Now recording
companies are increasingly using a different tack: flooding the Internet
with bogus songs to sour users on the services stocked with pirated music.
This tactic targets the tens of millions of users who log on to Morpheus,
Kazaa and other free Internet file-sharing services to trade music, movies
and software, much of it illicitly copied. The growing prevalence of
"spoofed" song files -- essentially digital decoys that contain annoying
squawks, bursts of static or endless loops of a piece of the song -- is
making the Internet's most-popular source of music less convenient at a
time when the recording industry is trying to improve its own distribution
of music via the Web.
In the latest move in that direction, the world's largest recording
company, Vivendi Universal SA's Universal Music Group, this week made
about 1,000 albums available on the Internet through its EMusic.com site,
which charges users monthly subscription fees starting at $9.99. The offer
grants users the right to record that music onto compact discs on their
The major record labels neither confirm nor deny the contention that they
are planting decoy songs on the file-sharing services. But the main
industry group that represents them has told its members the practice is a
legitimate way to combat services with pirated music. "We think copyright
owners ought to be able to do whatever they can that's lawful to protect
their rights and their artists' careers," says Cary Sherman, president of
the Recording Industry Association of America. "If technical measures like
spoofing serve that purpose then, by all means, that should be an
appropriate part of their arsenal."
The incidence of spoofing has taken off recently, as the battle between
file-swapping sites and recording companies has grown nastier. On
Morpheus, the second-most popular site, the number of decoy files has
"substantially increased in the last four months," says Darrell Smith,
chief technology officer of Streamcast Networks, which created Morpheus.
Behind the file-spoofing is a cottage industry of firms that say they post
decoy files on behalf of companies in the recording, movie and software
industries. The companies, which include Vidius and Overpeer, are
secretive about tactics, and say confidentiality precludes them from
naming their clients.
In a test this week using Morpheus, 20 copies of the rock band Creed's "My
Sacrifice" were downloaded randomly from a selection of hundreds of
available copies. Fourteen of those copies, including files labeled "Great
Quality - Actual Song" and "Not Fake," played pops, cracks and other
clatter, while only six played genuine Creed. The results were similar for
a sampling of songs from rapper Eminem's new album "The Eminem Show," also
downloaded from Morpheus: Half contained staticky sounds instead of music.
Vulnerable to Mischief
Spoofing exploits what is both the greatest strength and chief
vulnerability of the file-swapping concept: its openness. With services
such as Kazaa and Morpheus, users run a program that lets them designate
songs, movies and other files on their PCs for sharing with any other
user. While much of the material shared through these services is labeled
accurately, nothing prevents a user on the network from identifying, say,
a Lawrence Welk tune as a U2 song. A user with an agenda and the right
technical resources -- a fast Internet connection, muscular computers and
loads of file storage -- can make desirable material harder for other
users to find by sharing vast libraries of unappealing content.
So far, users have found few ways to screen out the bogus files. While
comparing the size of the file to other versions of the same song can
sometimes point to a spoof, the best decoys don't make that mistake.
Morpheus in the coming weeks is planning to introduce a new version of its
software that allows users to rate the quality of a song. A poor rating
would be a signal to other users to stay away.
But some of the firms that carry out the file-spoofing for
entertainment-industry clients say they are experimenting with new methods
to frustrate pirates. One of them is called "redirection," where a
decoysong file triggers a Web browser to take the user to a site where
they can order an authorized copy of the song.
"We believe, and our clients believe, that anything that makes these
[file-sharing services] less fun and also exposes consumers to new legal
sources of content is a major plus for all the creative industries," says
Marc Morgenstern, chief executive of New York-based Overpeer, adding that
clients are stepping up use of his services lately.
On top of the technical assault, the recording industry is becoming more
aggressive in its legal strategy. Major music companies say they are
considering filing lawsuits against individuals who share the
biggestlibraries of music on the Net. And the recording industry is suing
Streamcast, Kazaa and creators of other file-sharing services for enabling
music piracy. The industry blames the Internet and illicit music copying
through CD recorders on PCs in part for the 5% drop in global music sales
Write to Nick Wingfield at nick.wingfieldATwsj.com1
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Updated July 11, 2002 4:16 p.m. EDT
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