Bits & Bytes May, 2000


MP3 is a hot topic if you are looking at new PCs or if you are into digital Music. MP3 is an encoding scheme that allows music to be compressed. The compressed music then can be sent over the Internet faster and saved using less disk space.

There are 3 of the many issues regarding this format that we need to review. 1 Copyright, 2 Network bandwidth and 3 security.

Copyright: The objective of the format is to provide a means of copying music. In almost all cases it is not to make an archival copy of music you already own or simply make a copy of music you own in another format for ease of listening.(I.E. taping a CD-ROM you own so you can listen to it in the car because you don’t have a CD player for your car.)

Network bandwidth is a dilemma. It is better to have a method to compress music so that it requires less bandwidth or not have the compression and have less music. If we examine the Internet or ABMC’s Intranet bandwidth we find that the volume of music being moved is so great that, as of this writing, music sites are consuming 10 times the bandwidth as any other site and at least twice the bandwidth of the next 14 sites combined! This is producing the same type of problems with other businesses and the Internet in general. A recent article about a Chicago company indicated 80% of their networks' capacity was being used by employees playing Internet music. They also found that the problem they were having backing up their system every night was due to the huge amount of MP3 music the employees had saved, knowingly or unknowingly.

Security is a subtle issue because no one has officially identified the big hole that has been created by the primary Internet site for MP3 music, As part of the process each user loads a program on their computer. The program allows you to search the entire Internet for anyone else with this program and check out what MP3 music they have on their hard drive. In addition you can, without any intervention by the person at the other end, – copy – the music to your PC. Just imagine how long it will take before we find out that it’s more than the MP3 files that are coming and going.

If there were legislation proposed that would allow the FBI to look inside any computer to see what the user was doing the public, conservatives, liberals, and ACLU would all be up in arms.

What happens when you offer to let everyone copy music from any PC in the world at no cost? Why everyone freely loads the software that they never would have allowed if we said what it could really be used for. Do we really want to allow this type of software on our networked PCs?

As an engineer I would much rather have discussed the process, since I worked on the early efforts to digitize, code and compress speech and music in the early 60s. The truth is that until we are able to do more than just identify the problems, we are open to serious moral, legal and operational issues here at ABMC and throughout the Internet connected world.