'Cuckoo eggs' frustrate Napster users

All the king's horses and all the king's lawyers won't be able to put Napster back into its shell, let alone stuff it back into the chicken
Written by Jim Louderback, Contributor

It's impossible to use the legal system to legislate against 20 or 30 million people. How do you get them all into the courtroom? Where will they all be incarcerated? Perhaps we can turn our university system into one huge Napster prison system? Nah, it'll never work.

But Michael Fix has a better idea. Forget trying to influence behaviour through the courts. Instead, he's fighting Napster, Gnutella, and other music sharing systems not by trying to shut the systems down, but simply by putting a little garbage into the music stream.

His scheme involves building "cuckoo's eggs", and setting them free on Napster. These "eggs" are songs that look exactly like a real artist's song, and the first few seconds of the MP3 audio file are the song it purports to be.

But after about 30 seconds, the copyrighted work is replaced by a cacophonous sound -- a cartoon voice telling you that you screwed up, followed by an incessant, annoying, cuckoo clock sound for the remainder of the song.

The files are the same size and bear the same name as copyrighted work that's already being shared illegally on these systems. It's virtually impossible to tell them from the real thing unless you listen to the MP3 song for a minute or two.

Most Napster users don't do that while they're downloading a song. In many cases, a downloaded song actually won't be listened to for days or weeks.

Until a user realises he's copied a compromised song, it'll sit on his hard drive, shared again with the rest of the world. These cuckoo's eggs will infect Napster much like the "I Love You" virus operated -- just a bit more slowly.

By fighting fire with fire, Fix's fix is brilliant. I'm a big fan of programs like Napster being used to share legally recorded copies of music. I've got a whole library of live music that I've recorded with permission from the bands involved -- and these programs are wonderful ways to spread that music far and wide.

Fix himself is no fan of the music industry. But copyright violations, quite simply, are against the law. It's possible that these schemes could be shut down by an overzealous court system. Rather than lose a great avenue for legitimately sharing music, I say let a thousand cuckoo's eggs bloom. Eliminate the copyright criminals by clogging up their hard drives with crap, and let everyone else enjoy legally sharable music freely and easily.

Take me to the MP3 Special

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