During the lazy days of unrestricted ethernet, any Yale network user could access virtually any song in a matter of seconds. But then came Metallica and a 2000 lawsuit that ended before it began when Yale outlawed Napster, the father of illicit file-sharing service providers. Now there is Kazaa, but the University has learned its lesson.
That lesson, though, is not what the recording industry might hope: Renegade music downloading is illegal and inevitable — and certainly not the only thing Yale students do in spite of the law but with a reasonably clear conscience. For many, it is a perk while it lasts, and no one expects it to last forever.
So in response to Kazaa’s brewing legal troubles, administrators have slowed to an amble the rate at which students can download MP3s with the software. Yale is right to protect itself and to encourage students to obey the law by making file-sharing inconvenient; it is wise to recognize that outlawing access and forbidding MP3 downloads would be a waste of time.
The University has limited the bandwidth for Kazaa and other music file-sharing programs to 50 kilobits per second, 200 times slower than the regular network. Philip Long, director of Information Technology Services, said Yale decided not to block the service because the program does not entirely violate copyright law.
After soundly defeating Napster, the music industry has begun to fight Kazaa, a product distributed by Sherman Networks, a company incorporated in the South Pacific and managed from Australia, with servers in Denmark and source code last seen in Estonia. It is likely to be a long fight with international copyright laws.
In the meantime and as far as most students are concerned, Kazaa is Napster reincarnate. For anyone interested, they serve the same purpose: a free-for-all means of acquiring bootleg music. After Napster there was Scour, and students happily made the transition. Then came Audiogalaxy, and now Kazaa. Countless others are still out there, waiting to be downloaded.
Yale and its students know that the widespread copyright infringement now present on campus is illegal, but it is not the University’s role to regulate before even Congress and the music industry decide how to reform the current system.
And by now, lawmakers — at Yale and on the Hill — should realize that declaring one file-sharing program illegal only causes newer, equally popular versions to sprout. Copyright infringement cannot be blamed on a particular program or a particular campus.
It is the combined result of many, many students’ unwillingness to lay out money for their music and the recording industry’s reluctance to put in a greater effort — not to chase down college kids crouched behind their now-slower PCs, but to think of innovative ways to market its goods.