[Rumori] Students develop file-swap alternative
every.man at pressthebutton.com
Mon Oct 27 16:33:15 PST 2003
Students develop file-swap alternative
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) --Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel may soon be
the most popular guys on campus. They say they've discovered a way to give
their fellow students at MIT and elsewhere dorm-room access to a huge
music library without having to worry about getting slapped with a lawsuit
from the recording industry.
On Monday, the pair planned to debut a system they've built that lets MIT
students listen for free to 3,500 CDs over the school's cable television
network. They say it's completely kosher under copyright law.
The students will share the software with other schools, who they say
could operate their own networks for just a few thousand dollars per year.
They call that a small price to pay for heading off lawsuits like those
the recording industry filed against hundreds of alleged illegal
Here's the catch: The system is operated over the Internet but the music
is pumped through MIT's cable television network. That makes it an analog
transmission, as opposed to a digital one, in which a file is reproduced
The downside is the sound quality: better than FM radio, but not as good
as a CD.
But the upside is that because the copy isn't exact, the licensing hurdles
are lower. The idea piggybacks on two things: the broad, cheap licenses
given to many universities to "perform" analog music, and the same rules
that require radio stations to pay songwriters, but not record companies,
to broadcast songs.
It also can broadcast any CD -- even ones by popular artists like Madonna
and the Beatles who have resisted making their songs available even to
legal digital download services.
"I think it's fascinating. As a copyright lawyer, I think they've managed
to thread the needle," said Fred Von Lohmann, a lawyer for the San
Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "They've basically managed
to cut the record labels out of the equation altogether."
Conceivably, the system could be replicated by the cable system of a city
or town, the students said.
But it seems ideally suited for universities, which often operate internal
cable networks, and already have these broad performance licenses. College
students are among the most enthusiastic file-swappers, and universities
are exploring ways, such as fee-based systems, to give their students
legal access to music.
The MIT project is called "Library Access to Music," or "LAMP," and here's
how it works: Users go to a Web page and "check out" one of 16 cable
channels in the MIT system, which they can control for up to 80 minutes.
The controller then picks songs from among 3,500 CDs -- all suggested by
students in an online survey over the past year -- that Winstein, 22, and
Mandel, 20, have compiled.
The music is then pumped into the user's room on that channel and played
through a TV, a laptop with an audio jack or external speakers.
Only one person controls each channel at a time, but anyone can listen in.
Anyone can also see on another channel what selections are playing and the
usernames of the controllers (Winstein acknowledges potential privacy
concerns, but there are upsides: He once got a romantic proposition from a
user who admired his taste for Stravinsky).
If all 16 channels regularly fill up, MIT could make more available for a
few hundred dollars each. Users can listen to, but not store, the music.
The students built the system using part of $25 million grant to MIT from
Microsoft Corp., some of which was set aside for student projects.
"We still wanted to do it over the Internet, but MIT's lawyers were not
willing to chance that," Winstein said.
Their solution required navigating an alphabet soup of licensing groups. A
big challenge was confronting two sets of copyrights: those held by the
songwriters on the songs, and those held by record labels on the
recordings of the songs. Under the latter, it wasn't clear MIT could
simply make available the thousands of CDs MIT already owns in its
Instead, the students waited for the National Music Publishers
Association's licensing arm to authorize a Seattle company called Loudeye
to sell the students MP3s of the 3,500 CDs their fellow students had
suggested. The students then paid Loudeye $8 per CD for the MP3s (they
plan to expand the collection as students request more music).
A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, Jonathan
Lamy, was provided with a description of the project and, after consulting
with RIAA colleagues, declined comment on it.
The students say that because they've done the licensing legwork, other
schools could easily follow. All it would take is about $40,000 to cover
hardware and a CD collection.
Von Lohmann said that if record labels would grant blanket licenses, as
songwriters have, systems like MIT's could handle digital music and solve
the peer-to-peer controversy.
"The students get access to a broad array of music, and the copyright
owners get paid. This is where we should all be heading," Von Lohmann
said. "I hope the record industry takes note and realizes this is a whole
lot more promising than suing people."
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