Wednesday, October 13, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 37

Cougar Comics Online

About the Cougar

The Geek Translator is new feature of The Daily Cougar Online. It will appear on Wednesdays.

The long cyber-space arm of the law

MP3s and CDs are going to be a thing of the past before you know what hits you

The Geek Translator

Drew Hannan

Most of you would be surprised to hear that sending MP3 digital music files to your friends over the Internet could put you in a lot of hot water. Even putting a link to a site that has MP3s could land you a fine or even jail time.

Two weeks ago a 17-year-old Swedish student was sued by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry for having links to allegedly illegal MP3s on his Web site.

The IFPI was attempting to set a legal precedent by suing sites that link to illegal MP3s, yet do not physically host the files on their server. The student faced a fine between $150 and $200.

Though declared not guilty, the court did say he could be guilty of aiding and abetting music pirates, thus allowing the IFPI to sue him and others on different grounds.

Does this affect anyone going to UH? Yes it does, and should not be taken lightly. If you have a Web page and you have MP3s or links to MP3s, be sure they are not copies of copyrighted material or you could be in legal trouble too.

Now with a stronger understanding of how fragile your personal liberties are when you deal with music on the Internet, the question that pops into everyone's mind is "Why?" Why are we all at risk of going to jail if we give a copy of a song to our best friend over the Internet?

Remember the stone ages, when you used to copy tapes from your friends? Technically you could have gone to jail back then, but no one was going to take you to court unless you had hundreds of friends and you were charging them money.

So why is doing the same thing with MP3s going to throw you in jail? To find the answer we need to look back again and recall the Sony Walkman. One of the most profitable devices ever produced by Sony, it has become so popular that most people call other company's portable tape players Walkmans by mistake.

Here in the present and you will find Diamond Multimedia's Rio Port, a portable MP3 player that is selling very well.

Compare the similarities between them -- both are portable, both play a medium that is easy to copy and easy to trade with others. Both can be used to make copies of other sources of music, such as CDs, LPs, etc. The kicker is that both have no means to protect copyrighted material from being reproduced.

However, main difference between the two is that one is a physical device, while the other is electronic data. MP3 players are capable of playing just about any music data type, whereas tape players have to be redesigned to play something else.

The recording industry knows this and that's why they're attacking MP3s in any form they can -- by suing poor college students, cracking down on music pirates on the Internet and suing MP3 player manufacturers to scare them into taking MP3 support out of their players.

Diamond Multimedia was in court for nearly a year fighting the recording industry before they were allowed to sell the Rio. While the company won in the end, it lost a lot of money in the process.

It's all of this legal action which has kept big companies like Sony away from making a portable device that could play MP3s, leading them to make the Netman -- not compatible with MP3s.

Sony, the first big name in electronics to release a portable digital music player, will have the Netman out before Christmas. It will most likely be a big seller. It will not support MP3s. Sony decided it didn't want to go to court for producing something which could be used to make pirate MP3s. Aside from that, it owns a couple of recording companies too and looks at removing MP3 support as protecting their other interests.

The Netman will only play "secure" digital music files. These are files that can tell the player who bought them and who's equipment they are being played on. So if Billy bought M.C. Hammer's latest single, it would only play on Billy's player.

As amazing as this seems, this is why MP3s and CDs may not be partying with us during the New Year. They're on borrowed time. The recording industry plans to stop producing CDs in the near future and switch to a more "secure" music format, insuring people will have to pay to play their music.

Are people going to be mad? You better believe it, but they won't have much choice as the recording industry sees this as the "next big thing." They're right.

Since there are no moving parts and the chips are inexpensive, the new breed of music player will be cheaper than the average CD player. Consumers will be pleasantly surprised with the flexibility of the new system.

Do you just like that one song from Britney Spears? Well, all you have to do is buy that one song. Are you lazy and think leaving your house is scary? Just download the music you want into your player direct from the Internet. Recording artists will be happy as long as they know people have to buy their music to hear it.

It's a win-win situation for everyone and the recording industry is getting ready to laugh all the way to the bank.

Welcome to the future of music. If you don't like it ... tough.

Hannan, a junior MIS major, will be copying all of his friends'
CDs and converting them into MP3s before it's too late. 
E-mail him before he's incarcerated at whisper_40@hotmail.com.

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