Editor’s note: After we ran a story in our Jan. 18 issue titled “DC++: University technology staff raise red flags over student use of controversial file-sharing program,” we received e-mails from DC++ users pointing out multiple inaccuracies in our reporting. The main one was the suggestion that use of the file-sharing program was responsible for over-capacity bandwidth issues on campus and litigation notices sent to the university by the recording and movie industries. While it is true that peer-to-peer file sharing can cause these issues, there is no evidence that users the DC++ program are solely or directly responsible. In the article, there was also misconception over how DC++ functions. We apologize for these errors. In order to provide better context, we contacted Sam Hansen, a Western graduate who developed the DC++ network while he was a student.
Q-and-A by Matt Crowley/The AS Review
Only a few weeks after he came to Western in September of 2001 as a Running Start student, Sam Hansen and a friend took on a small project that would quickly become one of the most popular file-sharing programs on campus. A computer science and electrical engineering major who now works at Western’s Registrar’s Office, Hansen sat down with The AS Review to talk about how DC++ (aka Direct Connect) became what it is today.
The AS Review: Why did you choose to start DC++?
Sam Hansen: Me and my neighbor just wanted some way to share music that we had back and forth between the two of us. I don’t even know how we settled on the DC hub, we just looked up file-sharing protocols and that was the first thing we checked out. We installed the hub, we started swapping stuff between the two of us, then we heard a guy on our floor had a bunch of music, so we gave him the IP address. Then he told other people, and they told other people and before we knew it our whole floor was sharing stuff on there.
Review: Did you think it would stick around until this day?
Hansen: When I left campus two years later, there was a pretty significant amount of people on it; I think most of the campus dorms used it. I kind of suspected that maybe the BitTorrent stuff would knock it out, but that didn’t really happen. One of the great things about it is that all of that traffic, when we set it up, we made sure that you couldn’t connect to it from outside the residence hall network. That is one of the things that really kept the people that managed the residence network from getting on our back to shut it down, because we weren’t giving them the bandwidth issues that come with something like Kazaa.
Review: Did you get into any trouble for it?
Hansen: I was told, kind of ‘he said, she said,’ that the university had been approached on the administrative side about people using Western’s network for “illegal purposes.” I was told that Western basically said that this is private use of our private network and until it leaves that network we aren’t required to divulge anything about what our students do. I don’t know if that’s technically accurate.
Review: How does it basically work then, to sidestep the legal issues that normally come with BitTorrent and LimeWire?
Hansen: The DC hub really has nothing to do with what you choose to share. It just tracks who has what files and makes them publicly known to other users. I think a lot of people had an idea that all of the information on DC++ I was giving out, so I was like, no, no, I actually have a very little amount of data on there, all you can see is who has what and if you choose to download something, you see who you’re downloading it from. And that’s kind of the same way Kazaa works, except with Kazaa, the main servers you connect to are on the public Internet. It’s not constrained by any private network. With something like BitTorrent, you have a tracker that contains meta-information about who has what pieces of what file.
I wouldn’t say the way that DC++ works necessarily sidesteps the legal issues, I think the legal issues are still there and that there is the potential to distribute copyrighted works. I think the method of distribution doesn’t make it so that it’s no longer illegal. The way that we kept it off the radar during the whole Napster, Metallica, [Recording Industry Association of America] firestorm is that we really worked to keep it within Western’s network and off the Internet at large.
Review: Are there any misconceptions you would like to clear up?
Hansen: I think people see the low impact that it has as a means of saying it’s not wrong, but not being wrong and not being illegal are two different things. If you’re distributing copyrighted material, be it music, movies, books, whatever, you are, technically speaking, breaking the law. That being said, I think the way the RIAA and [Motion Picture Association of America] have chosen to approach this problem, and I really do think they have a business-related problem, they are seeing a significant drop in revenue due to online technologies that have come up since we digitized music. I think the way they have approached these problems is not in their best interest. They tend to use a lot of shock and scare tactics versus a common-sense approach to solving the problem.