Winstein, a graduate student of electrical engineering and computer science, and Mandel, a junior studying computer science, developed a system for sharing music files that they thought would avoid the recent legal issues over copyright laws, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Their program combines the resources of the radio and libraries and allows students to access pop and classical music from some 3,500 CDs through MIT’s cable television network.
Winstein and Mandel believed the system was legal due to the difference between digital and analog technology.
“The laws were written for a time when current capabilities did not exist,” said Director of IT Phil Fitz. “The law was written with radio in mind; the MIT plan uses music converted to digital format for ease of access, then transformed to an analog format for conversation-something the law never considered because those capabilities effectively did not exist at that time.”
Hours after the program’s launch, music companies, including the Universal Music Group, began to complain that the service was illegal and that they had not granted permission for the use of their songs, The Times reported.
Winstein responded to the complaints and made the decision to disable the program. “The prudent thing to do, the good faith thing to do, is to take it down while we feel out where we stand,” he said, according to The Times. MIT is negotiating with the record labels to get the service running again.
Winstein and Mandel believed that they could bypass the legal restrictions placed on digital file sharing by using the analog cable system to transmit data. The laws governing analog transmission are generally less stringent than are digital transmission laws.
The MIT system will now use the analog campus cable system instead of using the Internet, according to The Times. MIT like many other colleges and universities, already has licenses that permit the transmission of music by analog cables.
The problem with the new system is that Loudeye provided the content but “did not provide licenses for them to issue [it],” a Loudeye spokesman explained to The Los Angeles Times. Loudeye claims that MIT misunderstood the contract, contradicting an earlier statement from the company that referred to the 48,000 digital music tracks it provided as “licensed,” according to The Times.
Winstein and Mandel hoped to make the system available free of charge to other colleges and universities. The system could not run in full at the College. “Our cable channels are nearly all in use for cable TV channels and education channels … So even if the legal issues are resolved in favor of MIT, its usefulness here is limited,” said Fitz.
According to The Times, the project was backed by MIT and financed by research money from the Microsoft Corporation.