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Blocked students find backdoor to Napster

A sort of "free Napster" movement is surfacing to counter efforts by record companies and universities to quash access to the software, which lets online users swap digital music tracks.

    A sort of "free Napster" movement is surfacing to counter efforts by record companies and universities to quash access to the software, which lets online users swap digital music tracks.

    The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) beef with Napster is that it could create a black market for illegal copies of digital music; the organization is suing to shut Napster down.

    Universities, on the other hand, started barring students--arguably the most active digital music collectors--from using college networks to tap Napster on the grounds that the program was a bandwidth hog.

    Although the young Napster still has to square off with the RIAA in court, students at Oregon State University, Northwestern, Oxford, the University of California at San Diego, and other campuses that have banned Napster may have found a way to beat the system.

    Stanford University senior David Weekly, who irked the software maker when he published online instructions on how the company's system works, has now posted a tutorial for students that teaches them how to get around their colleges' roadblocks to Napster.

    "There is a pipe going from the student's computer out to the other computers on the Net, and the university can put a filter on this pipe," Weekly said, describing how colleges are blocking Napster. "The way that you get around that is to get out of the local network."

    Weekly's plan will only be helpful to those running Linux and Unix operating systems, but Mac and Windows users can get around the blocks, too, he said. Students must take only a few steps to gain access to a proxy server outside of their universities, which a friend at another school can help them access. Then the banned students can use the remote server as a middleman for getting into Napster.

    Once students can communicate with Napster again, they can see the master list of MP3 music files that other members of the Napster community are hoarding and begin trading tracks directly from their PCs.

    College network administrators are not surprised that students are eager to get to Napster or that there is a blueprint online that teaches them how to do it.

    "If there are a couple of advanced users that are going to work around the system, then that is going to happen," said Chris White, the system administrator for Oregon State's Residential Computer Network. "It's just a matter of how hard you're willing to work."

    Oregon State shut off the pipeline to Napster in November after it was discovered that Napster use was sucking up 5 percent of the university's precious bandwidth.

    Still, Weekly and other MP3 enthusiasts argue that bandwidth and copyright protection issues aren't going to stop the free trade of music online.

    "If the major (record) labels moved more rapidly, they could create an overall environment that was more compelling to use," Weekly said. "The fact of the matter is that right now it's a whole lot more fun and easier to do these things that are questionably legal."