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Swap blockers graduate to high schools

Software to stop file sharing reaches frequent venue of media-filtering lawsuits.

Technology aimed at identifying and blocking copyrighted songs as they're being traded on file-swapping networks is beginning to move into high schools.

Filtering technology from Audible Magic has been installed at several high schools around the country, most recently at private Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif., and a technical high school in Cape Cod, Mass., the company said. The song-blocking tools have largely been used by universities and Internet service providers.

As at the larger institutions, the high-school administrators say they are looking for tools that help them control unauthorized and potentially illegal use of their networks by students or staff.

"We have about 450 computers and 1,400 students, and sometimes, guys will bring laptops in and do some things that we may not want them to do," said Chris Cary, Bellarmine's technology coordinator. "We found there was significant (file-swapping) traffic at lunchtime and after school hours."

Although the use of Audible Magic's tools at Bellarmine remains limited, a broader move into secondary schools could mark a jump toward the mainstream by peer-to-peer, or P2P, network filtering. It could also spark more controversy. High schools' use of Web filtering technologies have led to prominent lawsuits.

Audible Magic's software has already been the source of considerable debate, both over whether it can accurately stop copyrighted song trading on P2P networks such as Kazaa or eDonkey, and regarding privacy.

Last year, top Recording Industry Association of America executives ushered Audible Magic's CEO, Vance Ikezoye, around Washington, D.C., visiting the offices of congressional representatives to demonstrate the technological feasibility of filtering on P2P services.

The tour drew bitter criticism from file-swapping companies and trade association P2P United. Companies providing the P2P software had not been shown the technology and questioned whether it could work in the field as advertised, the trade group said.

In some previous tests, privacy concerns have also been raised by critics. An early test of the song-filtering software at the University of Wyoming stopped ahead of schedule, after some students complained that the tool examines every bit of data going in and out of a network in its hunt for copyrighted songs. The company subsequently modified a version of the software to avoid retaining information on specific user accounts.

The move into secondary schools remains preliminary, however. Cary and his counterpart at the Cape Cod Regional Technical High School each said the ability to block individual songs, instead of all file-swapping traffic, was responsible for their decision to buy Audible Magic's technology.

However, neither has turned on that individual song-filtering mode, electing instead for the broader ability to block file-swapping traffic altogether.

"It's nice to know we do have the feature, if we decided to block only music that was illegal to trade," Cary said. "Then (people on the network) could still use P2P for legitimate things, if they wanted to."

Ikezoye said different customers would always use the tools in different ways.

"Bellarmine is a good example of a school using it first to analyze P2P traffic, and then to implement an appropriate solution," Ikezoye said.