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World Wide Web
Music on the Down Low

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When Madonna sang 'music makes the people come together,' she didn't know how right she was. Just as Prohibition drove drinkers underground in the roaring '20s, the music industry's crackdown is making all sorts of people come together in what are basically cyberspace speakeasies.

These high-tech Cotton Clubs usually require users to be trusted or at least know someone inside. The files being traded, instead of out in the open, are encrypted— the 21st-century equivalent of hiding bathtub gin under a fake floorboard. Internet file-sharers are operating much like any society that falls under attack. And the very technologies they are using as shields have long been employed by legitimate businesses to protect their data from prying eyes and hackers.

Three years after the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA's) lawyers succeeded in shutting down the Napster file-trading service, the music industry's war against unauthorized digital music distribution is reaping an unintended consequence: better, easier-to-use software for exchanging data securely—and even anonymously—on the Internet.

On the file-swapping front, current favorites Kazaa, Morpheus and iMesh are more decentralized and harder to sue than Napster. They are breeding more sophisticated stepchildren just as the RIAA goes after the swappers themselves with lawsuits filed against alleged file sharers. An upcoming release of the file-sharing program Blubster, for instance, not only makes users more difficult to identify but also seamlessly encodes files before they are transferred and decodes them for the end user.

Another program, called Waste, can be used to set up an encrypted instant-messaging and content-sharing network of up to 50 users. Unlike traditional instant-messaging programs, Waste messages don't pass through a central server.

Waste was pulled by America Online shortly after its release by the company's Nullsoft division, but is still circulating online. So the race is on to improve and simplify advanced security technologies. Beyond programs like Blubster and Waste, there are projects like Freenet, which has been around since 1999. Downloaded nearly 2 million times, it cannot only trade files but also exchange information and spread censored news to places like China.

Sources: Miami Herald; Associated Press.

Sites of the Month:

1. Alek Wek Online ( The nearly six-foot-tall Sudanese model is the focus of this site. You can read a brief biography that shows that Wek's life hasn't always been a bed of roses—but the real treat lies in galleries of pictures that show how stunning she truly is.

2. Gay Millionaires Club ( Not to promote materialism, but this site aims to set up millionaires with those who like to, um, be with millionaires. Peruse client ads, find out what makes a millionaire (I'm going to go out on a limb and say someone with a net value of over ... a million dollars), and even apply to meet Daddy Warbucks.

3. Chicago Gay & Lesbian Professional Network ( Well, if you don't meet the millionaire of your dreams, there's always this site. Members get together 'to share information and support for gays and lesbians in the workplace.' Check out resources, events, and job postings.

4. River North Chicago Dance Company ( Being a big fan of dance, I'd be remiss if I didn't include dance-related Web sites from time to time. Find out about workshops, upcoming performances (including Dance Chicago 2003), and the backgrounds of company members.

I'm at .

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