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Why I've stopped sharing music

Suit filed against one student prompts another to change

By Powell Fraser
CNN

Princeton student Daniel Peng's site collects donations to pay his $15,000 music industry settlement.
Princeton student Daniel Peng is collecting donations to pay his $15,000 music industry settlement.

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(CNN) -- On April 3, the Recording Industry Association of America filed suit against my college hall mate.

Daniel Peng, 17, a computer wiz who skipped two grades before coming to Princeton University, ran a campus-wide search engine that could be used to locate and download songs and movies.

The music industry slapped him with a lawsuit seeking potentially billions of dollars in damages for distributing copyrighted works. His site was shut down and his life thrown into chaos.

Dan, a junior, lived right down the hall from me last semester, and his plight made me rethink the whole issue of sharing music online.

Students wipe hard drives

News of Dan's situation exploded on the New Jersey campus. Some students sprinted back to their dorm rooms to wipe their hard disks clean of any record of unauthorized downloads.

Those who ran similar sites pulled the plug on their machines and waited, fearfully, to see if they would be targeted. Others simply shrugged, opened up Kazaa and went on swapping music.

With Dan's site gone, these bolder souls simply sought another. But Dan's experience revolutionized the way I download music: I started paying for it.

Having researched various subscription services for a term paper, I made a quick transition to Roxio's Pressplay client and began to pay a monthly fee for unlimited downloads through their service.

After a while, my collection of MP3s had grown so large I could no longer tell which ones were legally mine.

Seeking donations to pay fine

After the industry settled out of court with Dan, who agreed to pay $15,000, he replaced his Wake search engine with a page seeking contributions to help pay his settlement.

I used my credit card to send him $20 and students nationwide banded together to help Dan, who told me he has raised almost $4,000. A few of us helped him out of sympathy, perhaps inspired by a guilty conscience.

Until Dan's case showed us how far the music industry would go to stop Internet downloads, a lot of students thought this was an infraction similar to speeding on the highway. The case against Dan persuaded many to slow down.

Still, when I hear a timeless Beatles classic on the radio and then go home to look for it on Pressplay or ITunes and it isn't there, I tend to longingly eye the Kazaa icon that still sits on my desktop, beckoning me to return to piracy.

Only fear and Dan Peng's ordeal keep me in line.

-- Powell Fraser, an undergraduate at Princeton University, is an intern at CNN.com


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