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MIT stops the music

Legal problems cloud future of MIT's cable music network

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shut down a much-heralded campus music network that was supposed to provide a legal alternative to unauthorized file-swapping software.

The MIT LAMP (for Library Access to Music Project) network, although not a download service, was to have offered thousands of popular tunes over the school's cable television network, in an arrangement that MIT officials had believed was legal under US copyright law.

But this week, the school was informed that the music files that it had purchased for about $30,000 from Seattle-based Loudeye Inc. could not be legally used for this purpose.

Loudeye sells digital copies of music from major record companies. But according to the Los Angeles Times, record company officials told Loudeye that their contracts did not permit Loudeye recordings to be used on the MIT network.

Loudeye informed MIT of the problem, and the school shut down the LAMP network to avoid the possibility of a legal dispute with the record companies.

"Obviously, this is disappointing to me," said Keith Winstein, one of two MIT students who designed the LAMP network with a $60,000 grant from Microsoft Corp.

Winstein said that he hoped the network could be relaunched in a couple of weeks, once questions about its legality were resolved.

Winstein, 22, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, and his co-creator, Josh Mandel, 21, a junior with the same major, had hoped to avoid copyright conflicts with the recording industry by using MIT's cable television system, which uses analog technology and is thus unaffected by the tough federal laws governing digital music streaming.

Although their network takes orders over the Internet, the music on LAMP is played over the cable system. The creators, and MIT, had believed that the arrangement neatly avoided the copyright issues that have plagued online services like the original Napster and Kazaa. But last week's objection from the music industry has called into question the school's interpretation of copyright law.

Loudeye officials were at a board meeting yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

MIT, though, issued a statement blaming Loudeye for the LAMP shutdown.

"We have been working with Loudeye on obtaining content since October 2002 and Loudeye assured us on multiple occasions that the content they provided to us was prepared fully under authorization from the record labels and on behalf of the publishers," the statement said.

It also said that MIT is committed to introducing a legal version of the service.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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