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Findit suffers from legal repercussions

Matthew Smedberg | Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Firewalls, student reluctance and other factors have negatively impacted the use of Findit at Notre Dame, and students said they are concerned and hesitant after legal actions taken against music sharers across the country.

“I am definitely worried because of everything the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] is doing,” sophomore Chris Finch said. “I have started taking all my music off the shared network, and I actually plan to take all my music off my computer and put it on burnable discs.”

During the 2002-03 academic year, Notre Dame students discovered Findit, the indexing service run out of a Dillon dorm room that allowed those connected to the campus network to search for and download files from other students. No longer was it necessary to find music on such peer-to-peer networks as Kazaa and burn it to CD. Instead, students could literally play music from a computer across campus using Windows Media Player or Winamp as if it were in a folder on their personal hard drive. Movies, music and even software were only clicks away.

Over the summer, the Office of Information Technologies changed the setup of the campus network to make computers more secure from hacking and virus attacks. In doing so, they made it more difficult for programs like Findit to operate.

Firewalls are operated by closing all communication ports on a computer that users have not manually opened. Network sharing, like that which Findit assists, depends on such ports to be open both for searching and for file transfer. OIT asked students to turn their firewalls on to stop the spread of the “Blaster worm,” one in a family of viruses that do not spread by email, but rather by jumping to an uninfected computer via an open port.

Findit is being run by Jon Hilliard, a senior engineering major. Hilliard said that, at the end of last year, there were over 1000 computers “indexed” on Findit, of which about 70 were “searchable,” meaning that users could get information on their files and access them like a folder on their own hard drive. Now, halfway through the semester, there are only 15 searchable computers, though 235 users have indexed themselves to the database. Many of these have not turned their firewalls off, Hilliard says, or their folders are password-protected.

The issue of free copying of digital media has been in the national spotlight because of lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against users of such Internet file-sharing software as Kazaa, Imesh and Morpheus. Hundreds of lawsuits were filed against users who made audio files of copyrighted music and then made these files available. The statutory limit on damages was $150,000 per song, but many of the suits have been settled for amounts up to $10,000.

The fact that fewer students are even trying to index themselves on Findit is probably an indication that students are worried about possible legal repercussions from sharing copyrighted media. While none of the current lawsuits deal with users on a network, which operate precisely by making folders available to multiple users, courts have not ruled out the possibility that this sharing could be penalized.

While students such as Finch, however, are concerned about punishment, others are not as worried.

“I wouldn’t want it to happen, but I have no immediate concerns about being sued,” junior Patrick Scarlett said.