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Technically speaking

Wild Saturday nights on Rugby Road and the excitement of streaking the Lawn on a warm spring night. Alongside these University traditions comes a new one, the perfect hybrid of modern technology and financial restrictions - the widespread downloading and playing of mp3 music files from the Web site of increasing collegiate fame, Napster.com, which is happening more and more on Grounds.

With an eclectic collection of music, Napster.com is one of the bigger Web sites for downloading mp3s. The collection size increases almost daily when Web site users share collections of music files. Anyone can share their music with the world. Anyone can download it. Because the site has so many users, virtually every song imaginable can be found on Napster.com.

But this might be a problem.

"I can't imagine how it would be good for the music industry to have free music on the Internet. I haven't bought a CD, since I found out about mp3s," third-year Engineering student Charles Nurmi said.

And he's right, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Last December, the Association filed suit against Napster for "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement," according to www.napster.com. But most students aren't too worried about copyright infringement.

"It's definitely illegal, wrong, immoral. I feel bad for [the musicians], but I'm going to continue to download," first-year College student Andrae Via said.

Related Links
  • Anything and everything students need to know about MP3s
  • Students Against University Censorship site
  • Napster FAQ

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    First-year Engineering student Eli Frame agreed.

    "It shouldn't be allowed. I do it, but it shouldn't be legal," Frame said.

    Other students justify using Napster by making comparisons between the online site and the radio.

    "Taping off the radio and Napster are functionally equivalent," second-year College student Sam Ross said.

    The price of music is another reason to download music from Napster. Paying between $17 and $20 for a CD is often a little steep for most students, particularly if students only like one or two of a CD's songs, Ross said.

    "It's a one-hit-wonder era. It gives you an opportunity to get one-hit wonders without paying for them," he commented.

    But copyright laws are still relevant legal issues.

    "If an mp3 file is made from a commercial CD and [made available] to others, it is a copyright infringement," Law Professor Edmund W. Kitch said.

    The same also applies to people downloading files from CDs that other people have made available on Napster, Kitch said.

    Some bands have released mp3s of their own music on the Internet, and these are legal for downloading, he said.

    "I don't really care. I just like getting music and not having to pay for it," first-year College student Melinda Cotter said.

    Like Cotter, relatively few universities consider potential copyright violations a major concern. Instead, their concern lies more with network gridlock.

    Northwestern University, a school whose administration recently banned access to Napster from university servers altogether, cited the overuse of the network as the major reason for banning the popular mp3 behemoth.

    "We always expect our NU community to respect the laws ... the primary issue [was] that the network was being bogged down," said Susan Andrews, Director of Communication for Information Technology at Northwestern University.

    Last fall, at Carnegie Mellon University, a school the RIAA threatened with legal action because of the number of mp3s appearing on student files in the school's network, students lost access to the Internet in their rooms after uploading too many mp3s.

    "We inspected 250 network files, and 73 of them had mp3s," said Paul Fowler, Assoc. Dean of Student Affairs at Carnegie Mellon.

    The students could not use the Ethernet connection in their rooms for the rest of the semester.

    Policing is easy for school administrators to do, according to Jeremy Nusbaum, fourth-year Commerce student and founder of www.jamz.com, a Web site focusing on the digital news market.

    Band width usage, which is a measure of how much space is used on the network, detects abuse of network capabilities, Nusbaum said.

    If a student's file on the network is extremely large, which is typically the case with mp3 files, that student's file appears suspicious, he said.

    With the trend of downloading mp3s likely to continue, the recording industry wants to make the necessary adaptations to prevent the mp3 market from completely undermining their businesses.

    "Steps must be taken to allow the distribution of mp3s. They must be encrypted [and] must not be distributed," Nurmi said.

    "Every record label has plans to sell music online. The actual buyers of digital music is 10 million - that's expected to increase to over 30 million by 2003," Nusbaum said.

    Even with these technological safeguards, students say they will continue to download music for free.

    "Regardless, people will find a way to get around it," Cotter said. "It's not a big deal" to most students.

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