October 2, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 20  

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Forget kindergarten - sharing is wrong

By Kelly Marcella and Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff

Matt Prince/Gazette
THE INTERNET: A HAVEN OF FREE MUSIC AND FREE PORN. Downloading and file sharing is becoming increasingly popular and risky.

One of the things we're taught in kindergarten is the importance of sharing. We learn to share our feelings, our snacks and even our toys.

However, the times for sharing are a-changin' and sharing certain things - namely computer files - is not only considered wrong, it is now deemed highly illegal and could result in hefty fines.

The mp3 phenomenon has replaced compact discs as the source many people have chosen for their music. Of course, this raises a host of questions ranging from the ethics, legality and morality behind what music industry officials call "stealing music."

Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America launched a multitude of civil suits against individuals who share illegally obtained copyrighted material, hitting home the issues surrounding the practice of downloading.

While the crackdown on file sharing systems such as Napster has attempted to make it more difficult for individuals to obtain free music, other programs have taken flight and replaced the now-defunct Internet program.

The recent birth of the UWGo file-sharing system earlier this year attempts to facilitate file sharing specifically for individuals who live on Western's campus. The creator and administrator of the UWGo system, who chose to remain anonymous as a result of civil cases against music file sharers, explains the UWGo system simply connects computers in a peer-to-peer network to share data.

"There is nothing inherently illegal with writing software, distributing a tool such as UWGo or even sharing files," UWGo's creator explains. "The problem begins when people share copyrighted materials, however, that is entirely up to the discretion of individual users. UWGo has no way to moderate, filter or control the content crossing the network since it is a peer-to-peer system without central control."

Craig Daley, a co-op student at Western's Information Technology Services says ITS doesn't support file-sharing programs like Kazaa. "[The program] generates a lot of network traffic and slows everything down," he notes.

According to Denis Regnier, manager of technical support for ITS, if use of file sharing programs slows down the system or causes resource problems, then it becomes a concern for ITS.

The UWGo creator explains the system was born out of the resource problems that were accumulating within residence networks. "There seemed to be an obvious need to connect people who live close together instead of having them use the Internet. Not only is it faster, it also saves on bandwidth costs for institutions."

Despite these apparent benefits of the UWGo system, copyright infringement remains an issue of concern.

The RIAA recently posted a statement on its Web site detailing the definition of copyright infringement and describing the possible penalties individual users of illegal files could face.

"The online infringement of copyrighted music can be punished by up to three years in prison and $250,000 in fines," the statement says.

"Of course software can be used to break the law," UWGo's creator says. "But people are liable for their own actions."

-with files from Lorraine Forster




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