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November 6, 2000

Napster: Bandwidth to copyright law

Susan Mistretta is manager of learning technologies for ITD

Emory has experienced problems associated with Napster, as have most other universities. The technology is ingenious. Anyone can connect to the Napster website, register as a Napster user and download the software for free. Once that software is installed on your computer, you can search for music on the computers of other Napster users and get a copy. The software is easy to install and ostensibly works very well. Novice computer users have no trouble completing the installation and using the software.

There are two big problems with unrestricted use of Napster. First, most Emory students use the default configuration (it really works for people who want to find music). The default configuration of the software makes your computer a source for music without your involvement for all other Napster users.

University students in residence halls often have powerful computers, fast ethernet connections and lots of music, making them the very best sources of music for the world. Last year one student called the help desk because he realized 40 people were connected to his computer when he turned it off.

Forty people downloading music from one computer takes a lot of computer resource (the student’s problem) and lot of the Emory Internet bandwidth (everyone’s problem).

Last spring we at ITD saw Napster traffic on the network grow and expected it to be a resource problem this fall. During Freshman Arrival Weekend, we shared information about Napster. As time permitted, we helped students reconfigure their computers to minimize sharing. Our T-shirts warned about sharing files with Napster along with other computer violations.

By early September, the impact on the Internet connection was so severe that we had to move beyond voluntary compliance; Napster use was consuming from 15 to 50 percent of our Internet bandwidth.

In mid-September the Network Communications Division (NetCom) reconfigured the routers to limit incoming identifiable Napster traffic when network usage is high and to block outgoing Napster traffic. We notified The Wheel of the steps we were taking as part of our continuing efforts to educate students.

The Wheel articles from Sept. 19 illustrate the second problem with Napster use—which is the basis for the lawsuit brought by Metallica and Dr Dre against Napster. The software makes copies of music to share, which is probably a violation of copyright law. Napster is not actually providing or receiving the copyrighted music (that is why they are still in business); the users of the software are providing and receiving the music.

The Napster-related lawsuits involving universities are an attempt to include universities as culprits in any copyright violations that may be occurring. Emory has not been included in the cases at this time.

Most of the opinions we have seen from university lawyers and copyright experts hold that universities will not be held liable.

Making Napster go away is not the answer to the problem. The products for sharing video are advancing, and they can consume more network resources than Napster. In fact, shortly after limiting Napster traffic, NetCom moved to limit Scour Exchange traffic, another Napster-like file sharing software. We are continuing our efforts to educate students on our Internet connection and our internal network as shared resources, and that we do not condone copyright violation.

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Back to Emory Report Nov. 6, 2000