MP3s’ sweet sound: Free and easy for all

The children of the 1980s, the generation of Blondie, the Eurhythmics and the Bangles, are entering adulthood now in an age that gives “new wave” a new meaning. The latest craze in music has gone online in the form of compact media files called MP3s. These easy-to-download sound files put music’s latest and greatest offerings at Internet-users’ ears.

“MP3s give you the ability to listen to all your favorite songs for free,” freshman Joe Cope said. Cope said he got into the MP3 groove at college when a friend showed him a popular online browser and player called Napster.

The MP3 format compresses music into digital form to be uploaded onto computers or networks. Users can then download the files to their own libraries for personal use.

“There are a lot of different pros for it,” said sophomore Amanda Powell, who uses MP3s. “You pick the songs you want without buying a whole CD for one or two songs.” Powell said she enjoys the diverse musical options available through the use of MP3s. She keeps songs of different genres in different libraries on her computer. “You get a perfect blend of songs,” she said. “I could turn it on and listen for almost five hours – I don’t have to change CDs.”

Many students said they discovered MP3s while at GW, where they took advantage of the high-speed Ethernet connections offered on campus.

“I’ve been doing it since my junior year of high school,” Powell said, “but on a more advanced basis since I came to GW because it’s virtually impossible to do on a home (Internet) connection.”

For some, MP3s have become a small hobby. “The first two weeks, they take up all your time because you just want to look for all your favorite songs,” Cope said.

Yet despite its booming popularity, certain uses of MP3 files are considered criminal under copyright infringement laws. SASS Technology Communications Systems Specialist Ian Betts works with ResNet to connect students to online services in residence halls.

“According to the (ResNet) Code of Conduct, they (MP3s) can’t be distributed,” he said. Even with the provision, Betts said that ResNet does not directly investigate MP3 misuse.

Betts said he personally uses MP3 files to listen to his own CDs on his computer, which he said is a legal use of the technology.

An undergraduate student at the University of Oregon recently became the poster child for Internet music piracy. According to a recent Rolling Stone article, Jeffrey Levy plead guilty in U.S. District Court to felony charges of copyright infringement under the federal government’s 1997 No Electronic Theft Act. This act makes reproduction or distribution of copyrighted software programs, including many downloadable music databases or players, and musical recordings illegal.

Potentially facing a three-year jail sentence and a $250,000 fine, Levy was investigated after university Internet servers reported his unusually wide bandwidth use due to posting and trading pirated MP3 files, games, software, and films on a personal Web site.

But even in this sea of mounting legal opposition, a gray area exists where new artists promote posts of their songs to gain exposure. Some bands condone the trade of recorded live music.

Regardless of legality, the mass cyber-trade of MP3s that has sprung up is causing record companies to scramble for control over this virtually unchecked market. The worldwide recording industry recently took action in the form of the Secure Digital Music Initiative, an organization of record executives, software developers, hardware manufacturers and lawyers that have created a forum to create specifications for digital music security. According to its Web site, the group’s goal is to create a format that cannot be as readily recopied and distributed as the present form of MP3s.

Students had mixed sentiments on the issue.

“I can completely understand the dilemma record companies are having,” senior Neil Badlani said. “Personally, I only buy a CD now once in a while, maybe every few months, and I just download everything else.”

However, many users said they believe that regulation of the MP3 market will prove too daunting a task to be realistic.

“If they do try to control it, they may be able to put up restrictions, but they will always be available,” Cope said. “MP3s are illegal, just like jaywalking is illegal.”

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