frosh and downloading music
by Andrew Romano
Milling around Mathey College courtyard on the Wednesday afternoon
before classes began, kicking leaves and attempting to conceal my
awkwardness, I felt like a freshman again. And I didnt like
I was waiting for one of the brand-new Freshman Orientation Week
Historical Campus Tour to begin. Cosponsored by Orange Key and the
Princetoniana Committee, the tours were set to start their initial
run at 4:30 p.m. from each residential college. Guides decked out
in de rigueur orange and black would tow packs of eager freshmen
around their respective dorm clusters, reciting choice clips of
campus history and myth; all groups would converge on the Blair
Arch Steps 45 minutes later for a few jovial rounds of Old
Nassau, Going Back, and the ever-rousing locomotive.
Were really excited to have this opportunity to share
some Princeton traditions with what will be the newest alumni class,
said event organizer and recent graduate Liz Greenberg 03
while waiting for that class, 2007, to arrive.
But at 4:30, the Mathey guides werent guiding anyone
they were shouting things like Rachel, will you pretend to
be a frosh? to a passing sophomore and Come over here,
kids this is a mandatory meeting! to nearby freshmen.
Only 10 first-year students had shown up.
I think we need to work on promotion next year, said
Orange Key chairwoman Katherine Linder 04.
Guides scrounged up 15 shrugging freshmen from neighboring Hamilton
and Joline Halls and finally launched the tour at 4:45. We trotted
by Nassau Hall. Our eyes strained to see the scar where Washingtons
cannonball struck the southern wall of the structures west
wing back in 1777. We heard the tale of the cannons. We learned
the legend of the clapper-nabbers.
And at 5:20, we climbed the Blair steps to sing the school songs.
100 freshmen in all had hitched on to the various tours snaking
their way around campus, and now I was standing shoulder to shoulder
with two of them, pretending to learn the seventh verse of Old
Nassau for the first time. Despite their hesitating, tuneless
delivery, the anthem sounded good.
I grabbed one of them as the mass began descending the steps and
trudging back to Forbes, Butler, Wilson, Mathey, and Rockefeller.
His name was Willie Poor, Class of 2007. As I asked him why he took
the tour, three fresh-women chirped his name and told him to hurry
I just thought it would be a good way to learn the nuances
of Princeton, he said and scurried off.
I watched Willie Poor walk off with his women. I started whistling
Old Nassau. I wished I were a freshman again.
Musical traditions may have
enlivened campus during Freshmen Week, but lately music has played
a rather untraditional role at Princeton: making criminals of students.
I am one of these criminals. Ive been stealing intellectual
property i.e. downloading and sharing MP3 files online
for years now. No ones busted me yet, but that doesnt
mean I feel safe.
On Monday, September 8, the Recording Industry Association of America
the largest trade group in the music business filed
lawsuits against 261 individual file-sharers. Like me and
many other Princeton undergrads who use peer-to-peer file-sharing
programs like Kazaa or Morpheus. Each defendant had more than 1,000
copyrighted MP3 files available for free download on his or her
PC, and now each faces crushing civil penalties or out-of-court
settlements settlements that could cost the defendants tens
of thousands of dollars apiece.
On September 7, a few hours before the RIAA issued this flurry
of suits, computer science professor Brian Kernighan had asked the
entire Class of 2007 (plus this 04er) to ponder the possibility
of paying a price for our crimes. At 7:30 p.m. that Sunday evening,
1,000 first-year students trooped into Richardson for the annual
Freshman Assembly, expecting what the orientation literature called
an introduction to the intellectual life of our community.
Kernighans speech on the advantages and disadvantages of the
digital revolution was just that sort of introduction as
learned and prickly as the most memorable school-year lectures.
But to the MP3-swappers in attendance, it sounded like a warning
[The RIAA] has
filed more than a thousand subpoenas
to force Internet Service Providers (including universities) to
reveal the identities of people sharing music, said Kernighan.
[It] is also aggressively seeking stronger legal tools to
discourage sharing. In effect, we are in an arms race, and the weapons
on each side are becoming more destructive.
The MP3 arms race may have escalated the next morning, but it began
last April with the RIAAs assault on fellow Tiger Dan Peng
05. The two freshmen guys slouching in the seats next to me
could rattle off the plot points of Pengs story 17-year
old whiz kid sophomore runs popular campus-wide search engine to
help network users pinpoint and download media files; industry finds
out; sues for billions of dollars in damages but the prospect
of getting busted like Peng, they told me, didnt keep anyone
away from Kazaa.
After the talk, members of the Class of 2007 split up into residential
advising groups and trickled back to their dorms. Eager for feedback,
I followed one set of frosh into the common room of an eight-person
suite in 1937 Hall. The precept-style get-together started slowly,
but soon gathered steam. The kids argued about everything
whether the term popular music would cease to mean anything
once the public stops buying CDs, whether a government-run
music distribution system would be considered communist. Everything,
that is, except whether or not to quit swapping music files online.
Everyone agreed not to.
By the next morning, however, the industry was hunting down ordinary
(if avid) peer-to-peer file-sharers (and not computer programmers
like Peng). Princeton students 18-22-year old music fans
with the time and technology needed to amass thousand-song MP3 libraries
were suddenly prime targets. Their hands must be trembling
on their mice, I thought. Mine was.
So all day I bugged my friends, neighbors, fellow eating club members
but no one was quitting. I waited 48 hours for tales of mass
MP3 deletion to start pouring in. No luck. Around dinnertime on
September 10 I wrote an email to Rita Saltz, the policy and security
advisor in Princetons Office of Information Technology. Realizing
that students would never voluntarily forswear programs like Kazaa,
I asked her: Why hasn't the university put a stop to what's
really an illegal practice?
Are you suggesting that Princeton try to ban all file-sharing
software and methodologies? she fired back, comparing the
MP3-swapping situation on campus to underage drinking. Or
that we engage an army of people to monitor and censor all electronic
activity? That doesnt seem to be the correct solution for
what, after all, is a matter of education and personal ethics.
She was right. I downloaded 14 more MP3s that evening.
Andrew Romano '04 is from Medford, New Jersey, and is majoring
in English. You can reach him at aromano@Princeton.EDU