- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

It has taken college students by storm and, in some cases, their computer networks as well.

At issue is Napster.com , a Web site that lets users download recorded music for one another's personal computers. Just two problems: Users may be violating copyright law, and they can jam network traffic.

After Napster bogged down two subnetworks last month, Washington University in St. Louis blocked access to the site for nearly four days.

The university has since unblocked Napster, but network administrators there say they are keeping close tabs on the Web site's use.

Campuses like Washington University, where hundreds of students are hooked to high-speed networks through their dorm-room PCs, are most vulnerable to Napster. It has proved so intrusive that some universities Texas, Oregon State, New Hampshire, Harvard, Northwestern and Brown among them have permanently barricaded their systems against it.

Napster started a few months ago using technology known as MP3 to compress and transfer music files to personal computers. Other sites previously had done as much. Napster improved on them by creating a way for users to get on line together and swap files. It's this sharing feature that burdens networks.

Enough people are hopping on in enough places that the Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster in December, alleging copyright infringement and calling the site "a haven for music piracy on an unprecedented scale."

Copyright infringement is what bothers Greg Johnson, head of network security at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

When the university detects users wrongfully possessing or transmitting copyrighted material on its network, "we land on them heavy," Mr. Johnson said. The university is "pursuing a disciplinary process" against one student found with a cache of 9 gigabytes of copyrighted recorded music.

"When you're moving a few gigabytes of data through the network, you start to disrupt traffic," he said. That means making sure that students doing their homework don't have to wait "10 minutes more to get a connection because the slackers are listening to their favorite [songs]."

• Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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