Workin’ It


Q: Like so many other cubicle dwellers, I like rocking a little music on my PC while I work. But I’ve grown so weary of listening to the same CDs day in, day out. Is it OK to install file-sharing software at the office, or would I be bucking for a pink slip?

It’s certainly tempting to take advantage of those fat workplace Internet hookups and start Kazaa-ing the complete Donny Hathaway songbook. But file swapping is generally frowned upon by corporate taskmasters, who detest the way it bogs down networks. Lots of employers nowadays are installing software that scans individual hard drives for verboten material or keeps a hawkeyed watch on outgoing server-requests. And even if you’re one of the lucky few whose bosses deserve the yet-to-be-created Nobel Prize for niceness, there’s still the matter of some rather nasty Hollywood lawyers to consider.

Before you even think of finding the latest peer-to-peer dazzler on, check out your company’s Internet usage policy. What, you didn’t know such a thing existed? Not surprising, given that most such manuals are read about as widely as Finnegans Wake. Ask your friendly neighborhood sysadmin for a copy, and find out whether file sharing is outlawed. Virtually all wired companies ban “improper use” of the Internet — generally porn, gambling, e-mailed jokes that begin “Two priests and a stripper walk into a bar…” Now file sharing is being added to the no-no lists, too.

It’s best to end your MP3 quest immediately if your sysadmin is in the anti-Napster camp. You could try to file-share on the sly, but companies are getting sophisticated at sussing out music scofflaws. Many sysadmins cycle through the day’s connection attempts, looking for unusually large packets of data being transferred. Bandwidth hogs may have their hard drives searched — yes, including those “private” non-networked drives. There’s also the tried-and-true formula of using Internet filters to block file-sharing sites; an estimated 30 percent of companies already do, though, as Mr. Roboto has previously discussed (“Sites Unseen,” June 3, 2002), filters are easily beaten.

For savings’ sake, companies are likely to start dispensing with the human element and invest in programs like Websense’s Liability Protector, slated for release next year, which will automate the hard-drive scanning process. MP3s will then be checked to see whether they bear the appropriate “signatures,” or digital marks that denote whether a file conforms to copyright conventions. But what if it’s your homemade (and perfectly legal) DJ tracks that don’t bear the correct certification? The issue of digital rights management is troubling, indeed, and Mr. Roboto will be addressing it post haste. But not this week, comrades, so you’ll just have to keep reading.

In all fairness, you can’t get on corporate America’s case too much here. Swapping MP3s does chew up costly bandwidth, not to mention storage space. And no suit wants to mess with the Recording Industry Association of America, which recently sent letters to the entire Fortune 1000 warning that permissive companies could be subject to “significant legal liability under the federal copyright law.” So far, only an Arizona outfit called Integrated Information Systems has been zapped — it paid out $1 million after being accused of being too lenient with its employees’ file-sharing ways — but more examples could soon be made.

Still, if you must, Mr. Roboto recommends file-sharing outside the hours of 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific time, when demand is greatest and record-label snoops are most likely to be sniffing about. And, Mr. Roboto begs of you, no Anne Murray MP3s, OK? Even if it’s not a crime against your employer or the RIAA, it’s still a crime against nature.

In last week’s rundown of underground Internet novels, Mr. Roboto made the egregious mistake of omitting Justine Shaw’s clever Nowhere Girl, a graphic novel that appeals to the clove-smoking, Nick Drake-loving art student in all of us. Readers with further cyberlit suggestions, please send them in pronto. Mr. Roboto cannot survive his upcoming family Christmas on Budweiser and Clippers games alone.