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Part 2, How to Find Pirated Music on the Net
by Shawn FitzGerald

Finding pirated music on the Net is just like finding pirated software, it's easy as hell if you know where to look. Just doing a search at Yahoo for "MP3 download new kids block" won't get you very far. The people distributing this stuff aren't very secretive about it, but they don't go around advertising it in the mainstream office halls of the Net, either.

The best place to start your search, is Usenet. If you don't know what Usenet is, don't despair. It's one of the oldest mediums of the Net, and even with newer GUI news readers it can still be a righteous pain in the ass to figure out. If you have an ISP, you probably have access to their news server. You just need to go out and find a news reader client that can make sense of the mess and actually decode the binary file attachments into something you can listen to. I recommend Newswatcher for Macintosh, or Forte Agent for Windows. I don't recommend using either Netscape or Outlook as a news readers, as they don't handle binary attachments very well at all.

Once you have your news reader, what do you do? Set it up for your ISP's news server (which those lovely tech-support people will be more than happy to help you with). Most ISP subscriptions include access to a news server of some kind. Alas, most of these are woefully inadequate. The average ISP doesn't have the disk space and bandwidth resources to keep up with the binary newsgroups, especially high volume ones like the MP3 groups. As such, they either don't carry them or have articles expiring every couple days. Since large binary files (like MP3's) are posted to Usenet in pieces, if you miss one piece you can't use the file. Mindspring is one ISP with the resources to keep binary articles on the server for a week or so. However, many providers have subscriptions that have no Usenet access for a little cheaper. I'd recommend going this direction, then subscribing to Remarq (the service formerly known as Supernews). Remarq keeps all the binary groups, and the articles tend to stay there for a month or longer. Plus, they are in the business of providing high volume news feeds to ISP's, so there is tons of bandwidth to go around. It's only $75 for a year if you pay in advance. I ask you, how many CD's do you buy in a year?

Once you're set up with some kind of news provider, connect and point that reader at alt.binaries.sounds.mp3. Newbies beware! That isn't a domain name, it's a newsgroup name. Usenet separates its groups into catagories, separated by dots, just like Internet domain names do. If you point your web browser at something starting with 'alt.' it will puke on you. This group is one of the highest volume newsgroups on the Net. I just checked to see how many new articles have been posted in the last three days. The number was just under 15,000.

Decoding binary Usenet attachments is an adventure in pain for the beginner. I would suggest that you ignore your practices of the past, and actually read your news reader documentation. You will surely sink otherwise, and I haven't the space or energy to explain the process here.

Hotline For the more adventurous, you can take Hotline for whirl. Hotline is a niffty little piece of software that the publisher bills as an "innovative and collaborative tool." I'm sure it's all that and more, but it has become a pirate's (MP3 and otherwise) wet dream. The server takes up little memory and disk space, and you can have it set up and running in under five minutes. In addition, you can register your server with numerous trackers, that will list it to anyone using that tracker. This kind of hit and run approach has become a boon to those trading files.

Early Hotline betas were Macintosh only, but the release version is available for Windows as well. The client demo quits after 15 minutes or so of use, but there are hundreds of Hotline sites that have programs to crack the time limit. In fact, Hotline Software may have written a program that is too good. God only knows if the poor people are actually making any money off this thing. Since piracy of their own software is so rampant, there is a rumor floating around the Hotline world that version 1.5 sends IP information to a log at Hotline's own site. Scary scary.

I'll admit my copy of Hotline isn't registered, but then I'm using an early beta that will apparently never expire. It still works fine, and I'm not planning on upgrading any time soon. My beta is also unlikely to report my IP to God knows who every time I run it. If you run version 1.5 or later, beware of Greeks and all that.

Once you have Hotline running, you'll want to configure the tracker information to one that is a little less legitimate than the default. The best place to find Hotline Trackers is at Troutmask's page. He keeps a large list of trackers as well as information about up-times and numbers of listed servers.

The down side to Hotline is the servers themselves. Since any dimwit with half a brain can set up a Hotline server, most Hotline servers are run by dimwits with half-brains. For any given server, you will likely be asked to participate in the admin's click-scam du jour. In order to access said dimwit's server, you will have to go to some web-page he has set up with nothing but banner ads. Most of the time these are porn-site ads. Since the owner of the page gets paid every time someone clicks on the banner from his site, he wants you to click on as many as he can get. So you go to one porno site and look for the "5th word on the 10th line" then go to the next one and look for "the second blinking word in yellow." You then supposedly have the login and password for the server. About half the time it doesn't even work because the admin has changed the password and not changed his login message. What does he care, he's still getting paid right?

Most servers will at least let you log in as a guest and look at the files. If there's something you really want, the click-scam is probably worth your time. Otherwise, disconnect and move to the next server on the tracker.

To further illustrate the dimwittedness of these Hotline admins, I should point out to any of them reading this that those click scams provide a very easy trail back to you. There needs to be a record of who is to be paid for the clicks on those ad banners, and that's all in a very subpoenable database. Party on dudes.

Not to ignore any dark corner of Geekdom, I will pay small service to IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Many people get together in IRC channels and trade MP3's. Now, I am a ridiculous geek, but IRC is too ridiculously geeky even for me. It's like the ham radio of the Net, and filled with enough argot and indecipherable commands to turn off any but the most ardent nerd. Way too much trouble to go through for Just Another Chat Room.

In closing, there is one thing left to say: Good luck.

end

b i o
Shawn FitzGerald spends his spare time in front of his Mac trying to do constructive things, but usually ends up screwing around.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: shawn@mindjack.com