Watchdog for online piracy trains at Orlando university

Mark K. Matthews
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

WASHINGTON - The music industry's next weapon against online piracy is being tested at the University of Central Florida - a new front in the battle to stop college students from stealing music and movies.

School officials have confirmed that the campus is experimenting with a new watchdog program designed to prevent students from using computers to swap copyright-protected files.

Developed at the University of Florida, the "Integrity" program tracks data transfers between computers, searching for code patterns that indicate users are illegally transferring material.

Once located, the program automatically tells students they've been caught. Depending on the school, this can lead to a range of punishments, such as a temporary ban from the system.

"It's like having a police car at every intersection," said Gregory Marchwinski, chief executive officer of Red Lambda, which developed the program and is now based in Longwood, Fla.

Even so, Marchwinski said the Integrity program is not a silver bullet that can stop an underground practice that has gotten more pervasive since students first traded files on Napster in the early 2000s.

"Illegal downloading is not going away," Marchwinski said. Despite technological advances with programs such as Integrity, online pirates always seem to stay one step ahead in the online cat-and-mouse game.

The result is about 1 billion illegally downloaded songs a month, said Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, a California-based research firm that tracks online transfers of music.

The pace more than doubles the illegal transfers of five years ago and about equals the legal number of 99-cent songs that industry giant iTunes should expect to sell this year, Garland said.

"It's higher than ever among young people," Garland said. Not necessarily because more users are swiping songs, but because better technology allows fewer people to download more music.

The practice is global too - anywhere with a fast Internet connection, he said. At any moment, there are about 10 million people globally logged on to a file-sharing network such as LimeWire or BitTorrent.

For the record companies, the loss of these customers can be especially damaging because young buyers used to spend the most money on albums as they searched for a favorite genre of music, he said.

The result of the online piracy has been a steady drop in compact-disc sales, industry representatives said.

From 2000 to 2005 - the latest figures available - CD sales of compact discs fell from $13.2 billion to $10.5 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

"We are talking about billions of dollars in lost sales, thousands of lost jobs, countless lost career opportunities and major barrier to the growth of a legitimate online marketplace," said RIAA President Cary Sherman, testifying before Congress in March.

And lately, a key target of RIAA has been higher education.

In the past few weeks, the industry has sent written warnings to dozens of colleges, asking them to pass along legal threats to hundreds of students the industry suspects are stealing music.

These "pre-litigation settlement letters" are intended to pressure students to pay the industry for alleged stealing of music before a lawsuit is filed or taken to court.

Among the schools targeted have been the University of South Florida, with 31 letters, and Florida International University, with 16 letters. Neither UCF nor UF were included in the mass mailings.

It's a change from a broader legal strategy that RIAA has employed since 2003. Of its previous 18,000 lawsuits, only about a 1,000 were aimed at college students, an RIAA spokeswoman said.

Lawsuits and technologies such as Integrity aren't the only ways the record companies are trying to stem illegal file-sharing. They also are putting pressure on Congress to change the laws to aid their cause.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Ric Keller of Orlando introduced a measure that would help colleges pay for programs that can stop or limit online piracy on their campus servers.

"This is the kinder, gentler approach we're starting with," the Republican lawmaker said. But he warned more punitive steps would follow if colleges did not make a good-faith effort to curb the practice.

Among the options, he said, would be eliminating the longstanding immunity that universities have from copyright lawsuits - opening the door for a legal battle between colleges and the music industry.

"For every one Justin Timberlake, there are hundreds of sound technicians, songwriters and clerical workers" who are harmed by illegal downloading, said Keller, a recipient of RIAA donations.

During the 2006 election cycle, Keller took more than $4,000 from the RIAA, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics.

Keller said the campaign contributions had "zero" influence on his decision to introduce the legislation, noting that he also got significant donations from higher-education sources.

But new efforts to restrict file sharing on college campuses may not be well received in a higher-education environment that values free exchange of information, one intellectual-property expert said.

"I think a lot of universities would recoil at the thought of cutting off access to peer-to-peer downloading services entirely," said Jim Gibson, director of the Intellectual Property Institute at the University of Richmond.

"Any institution that has a research mission has to be careful of cutting off tools for research," he said.

At the same time, he said, the online-music format has changed the business so much that it is no longer possible to return to the old model. To survive, he said, the industry must adapt better to the changes.

"We are never going to put a stop to illegal file sharing," he said. The best the industry can hope for is to reduce the activity to a "dull roar."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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