Students at RPI like to listen to music, watch movies, play video games, and use software, which is not bad in itself, because in general that is precisely what musicians, actors, video game creators, and application programmers want people to do. However, the world is not that simple, because the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and Business Software Alliance (BSA) all want very badly that people get their products on their terms, while students frequently discover that they can find what they want for significantly less money than these organizations want.
The rest of the interaction between these groups generally takes the following form.
- Student: I think I'll just download this song and share it with my friends.
- RIAA: Hey, you can't do that!
- Student: What do you mean? I just did.
- RIAA: You're in trouble now. The ten songs you are pirating are worth an estimated $100,000,000,000. Pay immediately.
- Student: I don't have that much money!
- RIAA: Ok, then we'll just take the $5,000 you have in the bank.
One very common practice has been to run search engines on campus, most often indexing files shared via Windows File Sharing and Samba.
Phynd has left a solid mark on campus, being the service which has been around the longest. Originally available at http://rpi.phynd.net/, the Phynd engine was later used on http://www.chewplastic.com/, and most recently, http://www.akwire.net/.
Phynd is a search engine written in perl capable of indexing SMB shares and storing everything in a MySQL database.
http://www.chewplastic.com/ included a search engine run by Jesse Jordan around 2003-2004 until a fateful lawsuit from the RIAA which is documented on his site.
After the settlement with the RIAA, Jesse Jordan was legally unable to run another similar search engine, and other students took responsibility for a new one at http://www.akwire.net/.
Celery was mostly written in C and stored its data in flat text files. Gradually expanding, at one point it included images of the people sharing each batch of files and indexed things such as RCS home directories. It was taken down when the student union and .CIO got wind of it and insisted it not continue.
This was a horrible idea of Cory's, which was written mostly in C++ with a perl web interface, and eventually just stored its data in a flat binary file after experimentations with various relational databases proved less than worthwhile. It indexed SMB shares even recently, but it it probably made the most noise for accidentally attacking a number of web servers on campus, having many serious bugs in a web-crawling indexer which was eventually killed for good.
BitTorrent, a popular method of distributing files has been involved in a number of copyright complaints on campus, partly owing to its architecture which allows anyone to get IP addresses of people who have recently downloaded and shared a piece of copyrighted material.
i2hub is a communication and file sharing tool which is pushed to take advantage of the Internet2 connection between many schools, including RPI. RPI was involved in a large batch of lawsuits made by both the RIAA and MPAA over files shared in this way.