The Napster Pig Latin Revolt
By Glenn weiser
Metroland - April 26, 2001

It was too good to last. Napster.com, the legally besieged Internet song file sharing service that millions of users worldwide had been swapping their favorite music with, had declared a list of songs off limits, and on March 4th imposed a filtering software based on song titles to block out the forbidden mp3s. Artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre had condemned Napster as a massive copyright infringement, and several media groups including The Recording Industry Association of America (Check name) had sued them, so Napster had imposed the filtering system while trying to work out a settlement.

But the perfect end run had been found-good old Pig Latin, just like you learned it in grade school. Many Napster users started renaming their files in Pig Latin, the filter was fooled, and the salad days of unrestricted song sharing were back again.

The practice had become so widespread that a Web site, napcameback.com, sprung up offering a freeware program, which according to Yahoo, uses Pig Latin to encrypt song titles. Users having trouble dusting off their command of the porcine dialect could now automate the retitling process and scoff at the record industry as happily as pigs in slop.

Napster was caught napping by the circumvention of their filter, and for well over a month Pig Latin enjoyed an online revival as users went hog wild downloading all the files they could while there was still time. Several local teenagers, talking on the condition of anonymity, admitted to renaming mp3s in Pig Latin for sharing on Napster.

Striking back, the company recently put the kibosh on the game. On April 20th, Napster conceded its previous filtering system wasn’t working, and announced it had signed a deal with Relatable, an Alexandria, Virginia based software firm, to use Relatable’s acoustic fingerprinting technology to ferret out the proscribed tunes. TRM, the new software, reads the waveforms of a song like a fingerprint, and will recognize, for example, Metallica’s “Fade to Black” even if it has been retitled “Adefay otay Ackblay.”

Last Friday amid hoopla, Hank Barry, Napster's Interim CEO said, "Digital fingerprinting technologies are developing rapidly, and Relatable's new acoustic fingerprinting technology shows great promise. We are now working closely with Relatable's engineers to coordinate their technology with our file filtering systems; we hope they will be a substantial part of our overall filtering solution."

"TRM will help ensure that the millions of music files transferred through the new Napster system will be accurately monitored and it will enable the appropriate allocation of royalties to artists, music publishers and record companies," added Pat Breslin, CEO of Relatable.

But still, you have to wonder how long it will take hackers to come up with a workaround for this latest hurdle.

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                              ©2001 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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