On Digital Music Files

Press attention has recently focused on the impact campus networks have felt from traffic in digital music files ("MP3" files). These files allow the user to play music through a computer's speakers or even with handheld players like the familiar Walkman. Many such files are transmitted over the Internet, but they raise problems: (1) sharing copies of copyrighted music (and all commercially available music is protected by copyright) is illegal and (2) the size of the files and the popularity of the format has caused serious problems at many institutions, where network bandwidth has not been sufficient to support the traffic. Much discussion has focused on software called "Napster", but there are already numerous look-alike programs with different names but similar function. At Penn, we are monitoring the impact on network traffic closely and working with campus organizations to promote awareness of safe and legal computing strategies. The following considerations should be kept in mind.

  1. Napster and similar services work by making your machine a network server for other people's benefit. This certainly reduces the network bandwidth available to you to use, most likely slows down the performance of your computer, and it opens a potentially disastrous security hole in your machine. Once you let people from all over the world have access to some of your files, they are then in a position to have damaging access to the whole of your machine. In general, you should exercise caution installing new, untested software on your computer which might open up security vulnerabilities without your knowledge. If you plan to use Napster for legal purposes, be sure to use the latest version which allows you to prevent your files from being served on the network. Earlier versions do not give you that option.
  2. If you copy and share or receive copies of commercial music files, you are very likely breaking the law by violating the US Copyright Act. Law enforcement authorities and the recording industry are very aware of this and pursue violators aggressively. If you are taken to court, you have placed yourself in a very vulnerable position and it will be up to you and your attorneys to defend your actions in court.
  3. Some colleges and universities have blocked access to certain services because traffic in audio files was seriously constricting and even blocking network service for the whole community. We have not yet seen impact of that sort at Penn, but we will continue to monitor the network closely to make sure it doesn't happen. As always, Penn reserves the right to take appropriate steps to assure the integrity and functionality of the network in support of Penn's academic mission. If we determine that MP3 use of the network compromises other people's ability to use the network effectively, individual users may be asked to discontinue use of these services.

For details of Penn's regulations and procedures, see the Acceptable Use Policy (www.upenn.edu/computing/policy/aup.html) and the PennNet Computer Disconnect Policy (www.upenn.edu/computing/policy/disconnect.html).

--James J. O'Donnell, Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 25, March 21, 2000