Peer-to-Peer Pressure

Wash. U. students find a way around their Kazaa conundrum

"We've seen almost a 90 percent decrease from last year to this year on the number of complaints," he adds. "What that says is that our students are becoming more educated and have an understanding of the law."

It's either that or the fact that DC++ and the internal server largely fly under the RIAA's radar. "What the people who enforce those things do, I think, is use the same basic software everyone else does. They'll get Kazaa and do a search for their song or their movie," explains Arthur. Essentially, DC++ is harder to monitor because the RIAA doesn't have access to the WU server.

The RIAA refused to comment directly for this story but did submit a prepared statement:

"We have filed lawsuits against operators on college campuses across the country running [Kazaa]-like internal campus networks. This especially flagrant way of illegally distributing millions of copyrighted works over the Internet does not go unnoticed. These individuals are facilitating the massive theft of copyrighted music which affects everyone who brings music to the public. We believe it is important to enforce our rights against all types of copyright infringement."

They have done so before. Four university students from four different universities were sued by the RIAA last year for running DC++-type internal file-sharing programs. They eventually settled, each student agreeing to pay at least $12,000 and shut down the operation.

Meanwhile, the identity of "Hal" remains a mystery to most WU DC++ users. "I have no idea who's running it this year," says Matt Arnold, a sophomore economics major and an active file sharer, adding that Hal's identity changes frequently. "They try to keep it quiet because they don't like it when people IM or e-mail them and ask them questions."

Just because Hal doesn't reveal himself doesn't mean he's quiet. Last semester, users recall, he announced on the program's "welcome" message that the most commonly swapped files are porn.

And sometimes Hal gets testy. One rule for swapping is that everyone has to offer a certain number of files to share with others. Sometimes students don't have enough music or movies to meet the quota. So they'll offer up what is, in Hal's estimation, junk.

"A lot of people put their logged IM files on, and one time the administrator posted a couple's conversation about photographing themselves having sex," Arnold reports.

"People do stupid things on there," he notes. But for the most part, he says, "People are smart enough to protect their own privacy."

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