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New Technology Aims to Make Academic File Sharing Easier


An academic Napster? A souped-up Google for educators?

Not quite, but the creators of “LionShare” say the new technology could make it easier for educators and researchers to quickly share or search for large academic and scientific files with peers or other institutions.

LionShare uses a secure, private “peer-to-peer” network for faculty, researchers and students to share photos, research, class materials and other types of information that may be not be easily accessible through current technology, said Mike Halm, director of the LionShare project at Penn State University.

“It’s a lot more than academic Napster,” said Halm, who spoke about the project at a meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday of the Internet2 consortium.

On its Web site, Internet2 describes itself as partnership of universities, industry and government working together “to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies.”

Explaining how LionShare works involves some techno-speak that might be more familiar to the Napster crowd than someone whose computer savvy goes no further than Web surfing and e-mailing.

“Peer-to-peer” essentially means exchanging files between certain computers. Repositories are virtual warehouses where research databases, photos or other large files can be stored.

A researcher looking for data in most cases would need to search each repository separately, which could be very time-consuming. Depending on what the researcher is looking for, it may also difficult to download large data sets or video of, for instance, a deep-sea expedition.

LionShare uses new technology to combine peer-to-peer and repository searching into a single search, “like Google-searching the Internet,” Halm said. The technology is supposed to officially emerge from testing and into general use on Sept. 30.

Fred von Lohmann, an intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, said LionShare appears to be a great tool for academics. He represents a file-sharing service in a copyright infringement suit.

“A lot of Internet users want to share files without having to have their own Web server,” he said.

Von Lohmann also said LionShare’s closed networks and methods to control access could possibly make it easier to violate copyright infringements by allowing students to “create a neat, private sheltered place where people could shop music and movies to their heart’s content.”

A Penn State news release about LionShare states several times that the technology is aimed at academic file sharing. People who allow data to be shared can place limits on who can view files.

“It all comes down to how people share content and what restrictions they put on the content that they share,” Halm said.

Halm said LionShare was spearheaded by Penn State researchers and developed with Internet2 and Simon Fraser University in Canada. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $1.1 million grant to Penn State in 2003 to develop the technology.

In January 2004, Napster launched an online music service that gave Penn State students streaming access and limited downloads. The service was free with tuition.

Associated Press

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