MIT Stops Cable TV File Sharing System

Two college students who thought they’d found a way to give their fellow students access to a huge music library without running afoul of copyright law hit a snag when the school shut down the service in the midst of a licensing dispute.

The “LAMP,” or “Library Access to Music” system officially went live Monday, pumping music into dorm rooms over the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s cable television network.

By sending the music over cable, rather than swapping files over the Internet, the system avoided making an exact copy of the music and was expected to face lower copyright law hurdles.

The students, Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel, said they had negotiated for the Harry Fox Agency, the mechanical licensing arm of the National Music Publishers Association, to grant a license to a Seattle-based company called Loudeye to sell the school thousands of MP3s for the system.

But even last week as the system prepared to go live, there was confusion. The Harry Fox Agency said no such license was complete, while Loudeye insisted it was.

On Friday, MIT issued a statement saying it was shutting down the system at least temporarily while it pursued clarifications with Loudeye and make sure the system was legal.

“We have taken it down temporarily to show good faith and because the whole point is to be very, very careful and obey the copyright law,” said Winstein, 22, adding he was confident the situation could be resolved.

In its statement, MIT said it was assured by Loudeye that the company was authorized by the record labels to sell the music. But after the service was launched, “Loudeye informed us that some of their assurances may have been mistaken,” the statement said.

A Loudeye spokesman said the appropriate company official to comment could not immediately be reached. Laurie Jakobsen, a spokeswoman for The Harry Fox Agency, said the agency’s position hadn’t changed.

“We have not issued licenses to either MIT or Loudeye,” she said. “We are continuing discussions with them.”

MIT said Universal Music Group, a record label, raised objections with Loudeye over the arrangement. MIT then began discussing the matter directly with other record labels, and decided to put the system on hold.

UMG, a division of Vivendi Universal, issued a statement Friday saying: “It is unfortunate that MIT launched a service in an attempt to avoid paying recording artists, union musicians, and record labels. Loudeye recognized that they had no right to deliver Universal’s music to the MIT service, and MIT acted responsibly by removing the music.

“MIT has now contacted us and apparently recognizes its responsibility to compensate creators for the use of their works. Universal looks forward to discussing how to make that possible.”

MIT said the school “continues to be committed to developing a fully licensed service.”

The students planned to share their plan with other schools, whom they said could emulate the project and give their students access to music while potentially sparing them from lawsuits like those being filed by the recording industry to try to combat illegal file-swapping.


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