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Napster Still Blocked at Oberlin

by Christina Morgan

Have you tried logging on to Napster lately? Hope not, because you can't, at least not from Oberlin College.

The Oberlin Center for Information Technology began blocking the controversial site late last spring due to bandwidth problems. "A great deal of the traffic that was causing our Internet slow-downs was directly related to Napster traffic. As Napster is not seen as a vital part of our academic environment, it was shut down as a temporary fix for our bandwidth problems, in order to allow people using the internet for other purposes- research, online applications, et cetera- to get their work done," CIT consultant and senior RCC Gabriel Carleton-Barnes said.

Many students who frequented the website were under the impression that the site was blocked due the pending lawsuits against Napster. "I thought the firewall was put up because it was illegal," sophomore Caleb Miller said.

This past week, Napster reached a deal with one of the five record companies suing it for copyright infringement. The deal would require Napster users to pay a monthly due of around $4.95 to access each others' hard drives, a first step toward settling the legalities of the online music industry.

The RIAA has sent letters to college administrators requesting them to block usage of Napster and similar sites when they find that illegal copies of copyrighted music are originating from the schools' network servers. Oberlin College has received at least two such letters.

The CIT has not declared any particular stance on the Napster issue. "We are doing this to protect the functionality of the campus network, rather than from any motivation to curb free expression, speech or thinking," Director of Information Technology John Bucher said.

The controversy over the legalities of downloading copyrighted music has yet to be resolved. The powerful Record Industry Association of America is currently suing Napster for "contributory copyright infringement." Musicians such as Metallica and Dr. Dre have also filed suits.

This type of legal action over new technology is nothing new. The film industry once sued the Sony Corporation over the production of videotapes, and the RIAA, the same association currently suing Napster, fought to get cassette tapes banned in the 1970s.

Bandwidth, in simple terms, is the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. Napster consumes a huge amount of bandwidth, which slows down network access.

"The way Napster works, by setting up its users to be MP3 servers for other users, is very detrimental to our campus network," Bucher said.

Napster usage at other schools such as Kenyon College, Denison University, Bucknell College and Smith College has also been blocked due to similar problems. However, there are some schools such as Columbia, where students can still access the website.

The CIT is currently looking into purchasing the tools which will reduce this problem. "We are in the process of obtaining the bandwidth shaping equipment that will allow us to finally control network traffic," Bucher said.

An Oberlin student would be able access Napster from their PC as long as they are not using Oberlin as their Internet Service Provider. "I think this sucks because I can't use Napster. I'd be willing to sacrifice the faster times for Napster use," sophomore Devin Heatley said.

However, not all students were quite as adamant about the CIT's blockage of Napster. "We are using the internet for free, so I guess they can do what they want," senior Brian Buchanan said.

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Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 7, November 3, 2000

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