A pair of MIT students have developed a music sharing system that is in compliance with current copyright law:
- Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel may soon be the most popular guys on campus. They say they’ve discovered a way to give their fellow students at MIT and elsewhere dorm-room access to a huge music library without having to worry about getting slapped with a lawsuit from the recording industry.
On Monday, the pair planned to debut a system they’ve built that lets MIT students listen for free to 3,500 CDs over the school’s cable television network. They say it’s completely kosher under copyright law.
The students will share the software with other schools, who they say could operate their own networks for just a few thousand dollars per year.
….Here’s the catch: The system is operated over the Internet but the music is pumped through MIT’s cable television network. That makes it an analog transmission, as opposed to a digital one, in which a file is reproduced exactly.
The downside is the sound quality: better than FM radio, but not as good as a CD.
But the upside is that because the copy isn’t exact, the licensing hurdles are lower. The idea piggybacks on two things: the broad, cheap licenses given to many universities to “perform” analog music, and the same rules that require radio stations to pay songwriters, but not record companies, to broadcast songs.
….The MIT project is called “Library Access to Music,” or “LAMP,” and here’s how it works: Users go to a Web page and “check out” one of 16 cable channels in the MIT system, which they can control for up to 80 minutes. The controller then picks songs from among 3,500 CDs — all suggested by students in an online survey over the past year — that Winstein, 22, and Mandel, 20, have compiled.
The music is then pumped into the user’s room on that channel and played through a TV, a laptop with an audio jack or external speakers.
Only one person controls each channel at a time, but anyone can listen in. Anyone can also see on another channel what selections are playing and the usernames of the controllers (Winstein acknowledges potential privacy concerns, but there are upsides: He once got a romantic proposition from a user who admired his taste for Stravinsky).
….”I think it’s fascinating. As a copyright lawyer, I think they’ve managed to thread the needle,” said Fred Von Lohmann, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They’ve basically managed to cut the record labels out of the equation altogether.”
….Von Lohmann said that if record labels would grant blanket licenses, as songwriters have, systems like MIT’s could handle digital music and solve the peer-to-peer controversy.
“The students get access to a broad array of music, and the copyright owners get paid. This is where we should all be heading,” Von Lohmann said. “I hope the record industry takes note and realizes this is a whole lot more promising than suing people.” [AP]
Positively brilliant – there are obvious llimitations, but this is someting to watch.