EMusic Tracks Napster Naughties

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Emusic Tracks Napster Naughties by Brad King

1:35 p.m. Nov. 21, 2000 PST Emusic engineers have developed a tracking system that can identify infringing materials on Napster - something the file-trading company said was impossible.

Digital download retailer Emusic said Napster executives have been disingenuous in their claims that the company couldn't develop a technology to track users on their servers.

So Emusic put two engineers on the job and on Tuesday, less than three weeks after starting, the company said it had created a tracking technology that continually searches the network looking for users who have made available tracks from the retailer.

By tracking the MD5 checksum, which uniquely identifies the original source of a song, Hoffman said that Emusic would be able to track files that were being made available from one individual to other Napster users.

Once infringing users are identified, they would then receive an instant message warning them to remove the materials from the network within 24 hours or be faced with having their account blocked by Napster.

The system would also track the Internet protocol addresses of the infringing users, which would enable Emusic to send a takedown notice directly to the user's ISP if necessary.

"We have a responsibility to our customers and subscribers to protect the exclusive rights that we have," Hoffman said during a conference call. "Emusic has been in discussions with Napster for at least six months to come up with a consumer-friendly solution to this problem, but Napster has been unwilling to cooperate on any level except one."

"The company has been left with one solution which Napster has proposed - to remove users from their system."

Previously, heavy metal band Metallica and hip-hop rapper Dr. Dre attempted to have infringing users blocked from Napster.

In April, Metallica filed a copyright infringement suit against Napster, followed closely by the public announcement of over 600,000 names of users who had been sharing unauthorized files.

According the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyright holders can request that Internet companies refuse access to those people who are making unauthorized materials available for distribution.

The blocked user can then dispute the claims. Once a dispute has been made, the original copyright holder has 10 working days to take legal action. If no action is taken, access to the materials would be automatically reinstated.

Hoffman said that despite the recent Bertelsmann deal that could eventually result in a similar tracking service, Emusic would continue to develop its service to protect its musicians and customers.

While he didn't rule out a copyright infringement lawsuit similar to the major labels', Hoffman said that course of action wasn't in the foreseeable future.

"We want Napster to be able to wear the white hat," he said.

While Emusic's bot would have to monitor each directory made available to Napster, Hoffman downplayed the liability the company could face from privacy advocates.

"People don't have the right to privacy when they are publicly making available infringing songs," Hoffman said. "A burglar doesn't have that right when he's walking with a television under his arm."

Despite the expected backlash from Napster users who have repeatedly voiced their displeasure with any attempts to regulate their file-trading, one industry watcher said this is just the beginning of the technology police.

"I've been suspecting that digital fingerprinting was going to make its way into this in a big way," Noah Stone, the executive director of Artists Against Piracy. "It gives you a way to find out what song is (being traded) very quickly. "The acoustic fingerprint can take a few bits off the beginning of the song and can match it to an error ratio and still be able to determine if it's the same song."

With 140,000 songs in Emusic's network, Hoffman acknowledged that the system would have to continually update itself with new versions of the songs.

But the technology could be easily circumvented, said David Weekly, who came to prominence by reverse engineering the Napster protocol.

"You can't forge MD5," Weekly said via instant message. "Napster uses MD5 to fingerprint each song. The thing is, if you change one bit in the song, you get a different MD5. Meaning that if you try and track songs by their MD5s, and the users find out, they will be able to very easily modify their songs to have wildly different MD5s."

Weekly said that Emusic would have to continually download all the files so they could track each new "version" of the songs to combat the new files being created.



-- cin (cin@cin.cin), November 21, 2000


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