RIAA Strikes RPI

Thursday, April 3rd, 2003 @ 10:12 pm | Digital Rights

Larry Lansing:

Looks like the the shit has hit the fan. The RIAA has sent copyright infringement letters to two RPI students…

Under normal circumstances, this sucks. Since the odds are pretty good that I know one or both of the people involved, it sucks hard. Here’s a prime quote from the RIAA press release:

“These systems are best described as ‘local area Napster networks,'” said Cary Sherman, President, RIAA. “The court ruled that Napster was illegal and shut it down. These systems are just as illegal and operate in just the same manner.

Is the RIAA stupid or do they just not care? I went to RPI and used Phynd — it’s nothing like Napster. Phynd is an SMB search engine that indexes whatever people are sharing. In case you don’t know or have just forgotten, SMB is the protocol used by file sharing in Windows. It’s also available on Unix flavors through SAMBA and is built-in to OS X.

In other words, Phynd did for the campus network what Google does for the Web or newsgroups.

Yes, Phynd did offer to filter searches by file type, but Google does the same thing by with its Image Search.

I generally try to avoid Windows when I’m not at work, but doesn’t it also include network search functionality?

The students who wrote and maintained Phynd didn’t create or maintain the network — the school did. The students didn’t implement the networking protocol — for the most part, Microsoft did.

Another problem with this lawsuit is that projects like this are somewhat encouraged at RPI. It’s an engineering school and has some very entrepreneurial students.

I knew one person who wrote a network search engine and briefly ran it on the RPI network because he wanted to sell the technology to businesses and needed to prove it worked.

I also took an introductory networking course where one of the options on the final exam was “Design a protocol for a distributed file sharing system.” I didn’t have the time to take any advanced or grad level networking courses, but I’d be shocked if at least one of those classes went beyond the “design” phase.

News.com has some more on this topic, including some information from Matt Oppenhiem, RIAA Senior Vice President:

All the lawsuits were filed in federal court. The RIAA had not contacted any of the students before filing the suits, Oppenheim said.

Wonderful. If the RIAA had threatened to these students, the services probably would have shut down. It’s not that I encourage these types of strong-arm tactics, but it beats the hell out of seeing a friend get screwed. Instead, a conscious decision was made to use these kids as examples. Thankfully, there are groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, so these kids hopefully won’t be taking on the RIAA by themselves.

Update: Reuters posted a story with the names of the students and Larry has updated his post accordingly. The RPI students are Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman. I don’t recognize either name, but that doesn’t make this suck any. I’m pulling for these kids to come out all right.

10 Responses to “RIAA Strikes RPI”

  1. garrett Says:

    yeah, the entire thing is just too pathetic for words.

    btw, completely unrelated, but you might want to put some kind of indication of who the heck you are on the front page of your site, as i had to dig a bit to verify that the eric larry linked to was in fact the eric i actually know 😉

  2. maureen Says:

    I really hope that RPI backs these students up also… :-/

  3. Eric Says:

    I’m pretty sure RPI provides some basic legal services, but I think that’s mostly for things like traffic tickets and the like. I think something like this might be beyond the scope of RPI usually provides.

    However, I’m not sure how willing RPI will be to back these students. This isn’t the greatest PR for the school and it sometimes seems like PR is what the current administration cares about.

  4. Sal Says:

    Phynd has been running for years at RPI. Wasn’t it done for a Masters’ thesis? It’s like Google, not Napster. It seems that at least one of the RPI kids, Jesse Jordan, is a freshman. Phynd was there before he was- how could the RIAA claim he created it?

  5. Eric Says:

    Sal, I have almost no idea why Phynd was started — it was running before I even got to RPI. I was elsewhere my freshman year and a friend at RPI told me about Phynd.

    As for going after Jesse and Aaron, they’re the most convenient targets. The fellow who started Phynd is long gone and probably has means to somewhat defend himself against a lawsuit. College kids are easy targets. If all the RIAA wanted to do was shut down Phynd, they could have threatened to sue. Very few people have the means or the desire to take on an organization like the RIAA. The RIAA wants to let everybody know they’re “serious,” so they want to use Jesse and Aaron as sacrificial lambs.

    Obviously, I have no information about why the RIAA is doing this, but I suspect they’d prefer a trial to a sealed out of court settlement. A court victory would give them another weapon for threatening others.

  6. Dave Says:

    As far as I remember, phynd was started my freshman year by some guy. I don’t know if it was a thesis, but that I could find out. He graduated at the end of my sophmore year, and it was taken over by a good friend of mine. For the first half of my senior year it was run out of my apartment (i’m purposely not using names here). At that point the guy running it handed it off and graduated.

    I”ve been talking with him about it, and from what I gather the reason these two sites were went after is because they allowed searching from outside campus (just search, not download). Thus the RIAA was able to figure out what files were accessable.

    This is important, because they cant go to campus and use the campus search engines from on campus because they have no legal right to use those computing resources, thus anything they find is inadmissable in court.

    I’ve no idea what they are planning on doing with these students, but i think they will probably try to settle. They cant get much from them money wise.

  7. Eric Says:

    Dave, I don’t think this is about the money, it’s about sending a message. Furthermore, I think the message is “We will destroy you.”

  8. Dave Says:

    Unfortunately i’ve got to agree with that. It’s too bad that they feel the need to destroy people’s lives to “protect” their profits, esp when these people aren’t providing the music. I do remember hearing that they also found a number of files being shared on the two guys’ computers, and that may be what actually nips them in the rear.

  9. Eric Says:

    Yeah, I heard they found mp3 on the kids’ systems. I’ve got a problem with the RIAA claiming the files were there so they could be shared on Phynd (ie, a Napster-style central server).

    Also, it looks like the RIAA is claiming that the students were responsible for every file on the network. The Detroit Free Press article says the RIAA is claiming roughly 652,000 songs were shared by the kid at Mighigan Tech. If you say that each mp3 is 4.5 MB (probably on the low side), that 2.5 TB of songs. I seriously doubt all that was on the guys computer.

    I don’t think the RIAA has ever gone after individual traders, but that’s essentially what they’re doing here… except they’re trying to claim the individual traders were also running Napster-like systems, so they should be responsible for everybody’s files

  10. Jesse Jordan Says:

    yes, this is in fact jesse, and all i would like to say is that anybody that has anything to say about anything should visit



    Edited by Eric on 4/11/02: Linked the URL for the sake of convenience.