Word of the Month: File Sharing

This past month has seen the issue of duplicating and distributing copyrighted music files over the Internet become front-page news. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed lawsuits against several hundred people who have “shared” music files over the Internet. So our word of the month is file sharing, n., the distribution of data files, such as music, in a peer-to-peer network.

While on the surface this issue is about music, there is a deeper issue regarding intellectual property in electronic media. The new stories about file sharing have focused on the music industry, with a secondary focus on Hollywood and the movies, but at its core the issue affects all types of copyrighted material. Music is not the only thing that can be shared over networks like Napster, Morpheus, and Kazaa. Any type of files can be distributed, text, photos, movies (actually, the bulk of material distributed over these networks is not music, but pornography).

Presented below is a glossary of terms associated with peer-to-peer file sharing.

analog, adj., descriptive of a technology that measures data based on a physically measurable quality, such as length, height, voltage, 1946. Cf. digital.

ASCAP, abbrev., American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. A rights-licensing organization. Radio stations and other organizations that use music for commercial purposes pay ASCAP a flat license fee instead of making individual royalty payments to each copyright holder. ASCAP then distributes the royalties to its members. 1914. See BMI.

bandwidth, n., the rate of data transfer across a network, usually measured in bits per second. Originally an analog term, 1930, for the frequency range required to transmit a given signal.

bit rate, n., the number of bits recorded per second in a digital recording, 1982. A higher bit rate equates to higher fidelity. Most MP3s are encoded at a bit rate of 128kbps (kilobits per second).

BMI, abbrev., Broadcast Music Inc., a rights licensing organization similar to ASCAP, 1940.

bootleg, v., an illegally produced recording, 1929. From the sense of illicit liquor, which was smuggled in the legs of boots, 1889.

bps, abbrev., bits per second.

broadband, adj., descriptive of a high-bandwidth network, 1982, examples of broadband Internet connections include cable access, DSL, T1, and T3 lines. Originally an analog broadcasting term, 1956.

burn, v., to permanently record data on a blank compact disc. To burn in/into, meaning to render indelible dates to c.1840.

CD, abbrev., Compact Disc. A digital recording medium, invented by Philips Electronics in 1979. Also CD-R, Compact Disc-Recordable, a blank CD that can have data recorded on it. CD-ROM, Compact Disc-Read-Only Memory, a CD containing non-musical data. CD-RW, Compact Disc-Rewritable, a Compact Disc that can erased and reused.

CDDA, Compact Disc-Digital Audio, also CDA, Compact Disc-Audio, the file format used on commercially produced musical CDs, 1991.

celestial jukebox, n., a theoretical streaming-music service with a vast selection of recordings, 1994.

client, n., a computer that requests another data or an application from another (server) computer, 1978.

client-server, adj., a network architecture consisting of multiple clients and one or more centralized servers that manage the network, 1983.

codec, abbrev., compressor-decompressor, a software tool to encode or decode a compressed data format, such as MP3, 1981.

convergence, n., the process by which distinct technologies combine in a single device, for example playing music on a computer or transmitting photos on a mobile phone. Convergence is a seldom-realized ideal in the high-tech industry 1978.

copyright clearinghouse, n., an organization that grants permission to use a work and accepts royalty payments on behalf of the copyright holders. Cf. ASCAP, BMI.

copyright, n. & v., the exclusive right given to an author to publish and sell copies of his work (1735), to protect a work via copyright laws (1878).

DAT, abbrev., digital audio tape, a digital storage medium using magnetic tape.

decoder, n., a device or software program that decompresses and plays a file, a standard CD player is a decoder for CDDA files, an MP3 player is a decoder for MP3 files.

derivative work, n., a work substantially based on another work, but which has sufficient original material to allow it to be copyrighted in its own right. Examples include a movie made from a novel, a jazz version of a rock and roll song, a translation. Creation of derivative works based on copyrighted material requires permission.

digital, adj., relating to data represented by discrete numeric values, usually 0s and 1s, 1952. Unlike analog data, digital data can be recopied in successive generations without distortion or degradation.

DMCA, abbrev., Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a federal statute that prohibits the removal of digital copy protection devices such as watermarks, prohibits the production and sales of a product intended to circumvent copy protection devices, and takes other steps to protect copyright of digital works. The law also exempts Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from liability for copyright infringement conducted by their customers. Enacted in 1998.

download, v. & n., to transfer data from a distant computer to a local one, esp. but not necessarily from a server to a client, of a song (or any other computer file) from a server to a personal computer, the process of downloading or the data downloaded, 1977. Cf. upload.

encoder, n., a device or software program that converts data from one format into another, e.g., from CDDA to MP3.

ephemeral recording, n., a temporary recording made in preparation for a later, licensed use, e.g., a disc jockey taping a song from a CD as part of pre-recorded broadcast or a copies made during editing for a television broadcast.

fair use, n., provision in American copyright law that permits individuals to copy excerpts of copyrighted material and publish or use them for limited purposes without express permission or payment of royalties. The law does not define a specific excerpt length, but music samples under 30 seconds are generally considered fair use.

first sale doctrine, n., US legal provision that allows the purchaser of copyrighted work to do what they will with the purchased copy, e.g., destroy it, sell it, give it away, or rent it. The name comes from the principle that the copyright holder only controls the copy until it is sold to the first user.

format, n., a data structure that can be processed by a computer or other device, e.g., MP3, 1955.

framing, n., the display of another, copyrighted website, within a frame of another. This constitutes the creation of derivative work because it alters the appearance of the original page and is copyright infringement if done without permission.

freedom of speech, n., the US Constitution prohibits the government from restricting a person’s ability to express themselves. This prohibition is not absolute, however. There are several exceptions, copyright law being one of them. Fair use is an attempt to compromise between freedom of speech and protecting an author’s rights.

FTP, abbrev., file transfer protocol, the most basic and common means of transferring files over a TCP/IP network.

Gnutella, n., a peer-to-peer, file-sharing network, jocular name based on GNU, the name of an open-source software language, and Nutella, a tradename for a chocolate-hazelnut spread, 2000.

ID3, n., a 128-byte tag at the end of an MP3 file that contains data about the song, including, title, artist, title, album name, genre, and brief commentary. A blend of Id[entification] + [MP]3, 1996.

Internet radio, n., a programmed music stream, like that in a radio broadcast, that is transmitted via TCP/IP instead of via the airwaves, 1993. The term refers to both programming created expressly for the Internet as well as the online streaming of terrestrial broadcasts. 

iPod, n., brand name of a digital audio player made by Apple Computers, 2001.

Kazaa, n., a file-sharing network and software application, 2000.

label, n., a company that produces, copyrights, and distributes music, originally from the physical label at the center of a phonograph record, 1952.

Liquid Audio, n., a proprietary digital music file format, 1996. Liquid Audio files are copy protected and rarely distributed via file-sharing networks.

major, n., one of the five largest recording labels: Warner Music, BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, and Universal Music Group. These five companies publish about 75% of all commercial music CDs.

Morpheus, n., a file-sharing network, 2001. Named after the mysterious cyber-warrior in the 1999 movie The Matrix. Unlike its predecessor Napster, Morpheus is decentralized and impossible to shut down via a single legal action.

MP3, abbrev., MPEG-1, audio layer 3, a digital audio format that achieves a compression factor of about 12:1 compared to CDDA while preserving sound quality. MP3 is the most popular format for storing and playing digital music on the Internet. MP3 is a proprietary format, but is free to consumers. The license fees are paid by device and software manufacturers.

MPEG, abbrev., Moving Pictures Experts Group, an organization that sets standards for digital audio and video formats, the standards set by that organization, 1989. MPEG also is used to refer to the standard itself. MPEG-1 is the original digital video standard set by the organization; it is used in VCDs. MPEG-2 is the standard used in DVDs and digital television. MP3 is a later addition to the MPEG-1 standard that improves the audio quality.

Music Locker, n., trade name for an Internet service that allowed CD owners to access their music from any Internet-connected computer, 2000.

MusicNet, n., record-label alliance between BMG, EMI, and Warner Music that licenses music for online distribution.

Napster, n., file-sharing network and the company that created it, 1999. Napster was the first widely used file-sharing network. Napster’s free service was shut down as the result of litigation in 2001. The company launched a subscription service in 2002.

network, n., a system of interconnected computers.

Ogg Vorbis, n., an open-source digital music format, 2000.

peer-to-peer, adj., also P2P, descriptive of networks of computers without servers, 1982. Most commonly used for file sharing, P2P networks have a variety of other uses.

personal use, n., provision of American copyright law that permits individuals to copy purchased works for their own use, e.g., copying a CD onto a cassette.

piracy, n., a common term copyright infringement, 1771 for this specific sense. The term has no legal significance.

playlist, n., a programmed list of songs that play one after another, 1975. A playlist can standardized, as in a radio station’s programming, or custom-made by an individual on their computer.

Pressplay, n., online music subscription service started as a joint venture between Sony Music and Universal Music Group in 2001.

public domain, n., that which is open for use by the entire community, especially a work that is not protected by copyright.

RealAudio, n., proprietary digital audio format. RealAudio was the first streaming format, 1995.

RIAA, abbrev., Recording Industry Association of America, a trade and lobbying group representing the five largest record labels and many smaller ones. The RIAA is one of the most aggressive organizations combating copyright infringement.

rip, v., to extract a song from a CD and encode it into another digital format, such as MP3.

sampling, n., the use of a brief segment of a musical performance in the creation of a new work, 1975.

SDMI, n., Secure Digital Music Initiative, a joint technology venture between major record labels to create a secure file standard, 1999. SDMI has yet to achieve any substantial success.

server, n., a computer that provides data or applications to other computers on its network.

streaming, n., to begin playback of an audio or video file before it has been completely downloaded to the client device. One of two conceptual frameworks for providing digital music over the Internet, the other being downloadable files.

terrestrial, adj., pertaining to traditional over-the-airwaves broadcast.

upload, v. & n., to transfer data from a local computer to a distant one, esp. but not necessarily from a client to a server, the process of uploading or the data uploaded, 1985. Cf. download.

watermark, n. & v., identification embedded in a digital file that either prevents unauthorized copying or enables the tracing of the copies to the source.

WAV, n., a digital audio format. WAV maintains a very high fidelity at the cost of large file size.

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