iTuning In To Free Music

In an Arts column published in The Crimson this September, Dan P. Gilmore ’05 concluded that “it’s time to start paying for our music again.” Time and the introduction of iTunes to the PC have proven this conclusion wrong.

iTunes—which until quite recently was only available to Mac users—cleverly finds a loophole in the music copyright laws and, in so doing, gives a new definition to the term “music sharing.” Although the program does not eliminate the illegality of downloading music from someone else’s computer, it does allow you to browse through the music library of other iTunes users and play their songs.

In recent weeks, iTunes use has exploded on the Harvard campus, with e-mails going out on house lists imploring studentsto download the program in order to create a wider network of shared music. Sadly, after this initial rush, many have remarked that, for the most part, their shared folder still extends only as far as the walls of their House or dorm.

“I believe that the way [iTunes] works is that sharing is designed to work optimally within individual subnets (or segments) of networks. Some network segments at Harvard, like our wireless subnets, are actual ‘virtual LANs’ that connect multiple buildings,” explained Kevin Davis, the FAS coordinator of residential computing, in an e-mail.

However, in spite of the program’s inherent limitations, most students are content with the sharing opportunities available to them.


“You take what you can get—[i]t would be awesome if I could share music with everyone on the Harvard network, but before iTunes I couldn’t share music with anybody—legally, anyway—so this is a great change,” said Arie J. Hasit ’05.

By allowing users to see each other’s libraries and playlists—including such lists as “My Top Rated,” “Recently Played” and “Top 25 Most Played”—students now not only have a lot more music available to them, but also an entirely new way of getting to know one another. By examining other people’s music libraries, you can discover new things about old friends or get to know new people, which, as Samuel W. Lessin ’05 points out, has the potential to inspire a new sense of community.

“You learn a lot about the people around you based upon what they listen to, and there is some sort of bond in using their music collection,” said Lessin. “The only problem is when people name their collections something that has nothing to do with who they are in real life, like ‘elevator music.’”

Others, however, find that the supposedly intimate knowledge you gain about somebody by inspecting their music collection is actually fairly superficial.

“I don’t think that I get to know the other people so well as I get to know their playlists. Sometimes I think it is interesting when, for instance, the guy down the hall has a lot of country and I never would have suspected . . . [but] the music that one has is at once a function of what one likes and a function of what one has access to,” said Meghan Anne Day ’05.

Regardless of whether iTunes actually creates a community of music listeners, however, it does offer the option of listening to other people’s music collections. This in turn proves beneficial to those listeners with more eclectic tastes in music.

“There’s a guy in my house I barely know whose music I listen to more than my own. I feel like I know him better because of that. I wouldn’t say I have any special bond with him, but I definitely look at him differently now,” said Zoe T. VanderWolk ’05.

In some cases, people use iTunes to listen to music that they secretly like, as Hasit does when he indulges in the occasional “guilty pleasure” by listening to a song from someone else’s collection that, as he says, he “wouldn’t dare own [himself].” Although this opportunity is doubtlessly considered a positive characteristic of the program by Hasit and those like him, the option of listening to music that you probably would not keep on your own computer reveals the problem of allowing people to see that you listen to music that you would never readily admit to owning.

“There’s some guy on my list who has five different Enya albums. That’s probably something that would have taken him a long time to admit to if I knew him personally,” comments VanderWolk.

Others, however, find the sharing option on iTunes to be rather redundant, leading them to the depressing conclusion that most students’ musical tastes are not especially noteworthy or diverse.