NYT reports another novel idea out of M.I.T.

Two students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a system for sharing music within their campus community that they say can avoid the copyright battles that have pitted the music industry against many customers.

The students, Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel, drew the idea for their campus-wide network from a blend of libraries and from radio. Their effort, the Libraries Access to Music Project, which is backed by M.I.T. and financed by research money from the Microsoft Corporation, will provide music from some 3,500 CD’s through a novel source: the university’s cable television network.

The students say the system, which they plan to officially announce today, falls within the time-honored licensing and royalty system under which the music industry allows broadcasters and others to play recordings for a public audience. Major music industry groups are reserving comment, while some legal experts say the M.I.T. system mainly demonstrates how unwieldy copyright laws have become. A novel approach to serving up music on demand from one of the nation’s leading technical institutions is only fitting, admirers of the project say. The music industry’s woes started on college campuses, where fast Internet connections and a population of music lovers with time on their hands sparked a file-sharing revolution.

“It’s kind of brilliant,” said Mike Godwin, the senior technology counsel at Public Knowledge, a policy group in Washington that focuses on intellectual property issues. If the legal theories hold up, he said, “they’ve sidestepped the stonewall that the music companies have tried to put up between campus users and music sharing.”

Hal Abelson, a professor of computer science and engineering at M.I.T., called the system an imaginative approach that reflected the problem-solving sensibility of engineering at the university. “Everybody has gotten so wedged into entrenched positions that listening to music has to have something to do with file sharing,” he said. The students’ project shows “it doesn’t have to be that way at all.”


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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.