Her parents' generation may wax nostalgic about Woodstock or following the Grateful Dead
, but Marley Orr '04 has her own memories of days and nights of musical abandon.
It was 2000, Orr's first year at Colby. Students had turned each other on to the new concept of Internet file sharing, which allowed them to download thousands of songs, from pop hits to the most obscure releases. Napster provided a central directory that told users what music could be found on other users' computers. Find a music file on the index, hit "download" and a short while later,Voilà!
"I loved it," said Orr, who grew up watching her mother tape music off the radio. "It was the best thing in the world for me because I was dumping thousands of dollars on CDs. You could type in even a typo or something and you would come out with something in Germany or someplace. They had absolutely everything you could possibly find. Everything."
If it seemed too good to be true, it was. Napster, in its freewheeling, free-for-the-taking form (it's since been recast as a paid music service), was shut down by record companies who went to court, arguing that Napster was violating copyright law. But the court fight that ended free Napster,and spawned subsequent file-sharing lawsuits, subpoenas, fines and threats of jail time for college students and others,couldn't stop the newest iteration of music-copying technology from becoming a permanent fixture in the lives of millions of people around the world.
Even on Mayflower Hill, where central control of Internet access puts the squeeze on file sharers, music downloading is alive and well, as much a part of students' lives as picking up a cell phone. "Since the collapse of Napster, it's been a stream of different applications that are constantly developing, until somebody closes them down and finds out," said Greg Dupuy '04. "As soon as [a file-sharing company] gets sued, another one pops up."
The preferred file-sharing application that week, Dupuy said, was a Web site administered in Slovakia.
Slovakia? Applications? For older generations whose "file sharing" meant copying a favorite record album onto a blank cassette (that actually was made legal by the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992), the new technology may be a strange new world. And while nobody at Colby cared if you taped your roommate's copy of Abbey Road, the College now is the keeper of the conduit that connects Colby's computers to the outside world. As such, the College is caught in the crossfire of a battle that pits the recording industry against those who download music,and movies and TV episodes,for free.