A Kick in the Keister for Napster

Philosophical ruminations.
May 2 2000 3:00 AM

A Kick in the Keister for Napster

... And Justice for All?

Heavy-metal band Metallica has sued three universities and an Internet startup to prevent the free downloading of its music. The suit named Indiana University, the University of Southern California, Yale University, and Napster, whose software makes it easy to find and play music stored on the Web. The suit charges copyright infringement and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The three schools were dropped from the suit when they agreed to block Napster from their computer systems, leaving Napster as the only defendant. Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School criticized Yale for folding, telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "[I]t was like a library caving to an author who doesn't want a book to be lent out." In a related case, rapper Dr. Dre has filed a similar suit against five universities, Napster, and five Napster users to be named later.

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Italy's Best of Breed

Italy's wolf population of 400 is growing despite being aggressively hunted and poisoned. Conservation Biology reports that the country's wolf population has grown by about 7 percent a year since 1976, when protection laws were passed and the beasts numbered at about 100. Also, a DNA study of 101 Italian wolves indicates that the animals' bloodlines remain pure, unlike most European wolves, which have interbred with feral dogs.

Making Book

The University of Chicago Press has named Paula Barker Duffy, formerly of the Free Press and Harvard Business School Press, as its new director. Duffy is the first woman to assume leadership of a major American university press.

A Certain Slant of Light

A newly discovered photograph of the adult Emily Dickinson has been posted on the Web site of Philip Gura, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Gura says that he recently purchased the photo, but he does not say from whom. The photo, dated to 1864-65, is only the second image of Dickinson known to exist—the other is a much older daguerreotype, made when the writer was a teen-ager. Gura authenticated the photograph by comparing it with computer-generated negatives of the early daguerreotype.

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Radio Yeats

An essay in the spring Wilson Quarterly documents William Butler Yeats' radio career. The poet recorded 11 times for the BBC in the 1930s, offering readings of his poems and a performance of his translation of Oedipus the King. But by 1937, Yeats was using his air time to make political statements, reading his poem "Roger Casement," an indictment of what he saw as British betrayal in the execution of the Anglo-Irish martyr Roger Casement. Complete with sound effects and singing, the program turned into "a fiasco ... [where] every human sound turned into the groans, roars, bellows of a wild [beast]" as it came over the wireless, writes Colton Johnson. A few days later, Yeats rerecorded the program with a different microphone setup to better effect, and he pronounced the session a success.

A Thousand Flowers Wilt

Chinese officials fired two leading academics from their positions last month and berated two others through their press proxies for dissenting from government policy. Economist Fan Gang and political scientist Liu Junning lost their jobs, and were lumped together with economist Mao Yushi and retired academic Li Shenzhi in a Guangming Daily editorial that berated this gang of four of advancing too many Western ideas, such as privatization and political reform. President Jiang Zemin has publicly campaigned against what he calls the foreign plot to divide and westernize China. None of the academics has been charged with a crime, however. "I've heard that I'm being criticized by the propaganda department," economist Mao said. "They say I'm advocating privatization and freedom. It's all nonsense."

God Doesn't Bowl Alone

The desire for independence is the key psychological difference separating religious and non-religious people, according to Ohio State University researcher Steven Reiss. Reiss arrived at this decision after surveying 558 students and professionals with his Reiss Profiles, which measure individual differences in 15 different desires and goals. "People who score high on independence want to make their own decisions," he wrote in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. "They don't normally enjoy having to rely on other people. In contrast, religious people seek strength by relying on the help of others, including God." (Click here for a press release on the study.)

See Me, Hear Me

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf is developing a new video dictionary of American Sign Language. The project, led by assistant professor of ASL Geoffrey Poor, will offer both definitions of individual signs and examples of usage. The correct formation of a sign depends greatly on the meaning of the surrounding sentence, so the video dictionary will make it easier for students of ASL to learn to sign more precisely based on context.

I Can See Clearly Now

Columbia professor of mechanical engineering Shane Hong has found a way to eliminate the scratches—"scratchiti"—that mar and obscure subway windows. His scratchiti-buster works by melting the surface and dissolving the scratches. Then, as the glass cools, the surface becomes smooth again. The New York Times reports that the city's transit authority currently spends $3 million a year replacing scarred windows and hopes that the invention will save it money.

Campus Game Boys

With chalk in hand, University of Chicago math students celebrated Math Awareness Month this April by scrawling mathematical formulas and theorems on sidewalks and buildings across the campus. Speaking anonymously to the Chicago Weekly News, one student said, "The theorems of such great mathematicians as Euler, Stokes, and Van Kampen should not be hidden away in dusty textbooks." At Brown University, students transformed one exterior wall of the school's 14-story Sciences Library into a giant display of the computer game Tetris. Time magazine reports that setting up the game, powered by a PC running Linux, took more than five months of work and planning.

—Hillary Frey 

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