Tool aims to ease academic file-sharing

/ Source: The Associated Press

Researchers at Penn State and other universities have developed a tool to more easily share or search for large academic files — using the principles most associated with trading music and movies illegally.

But unlike the free "peer-to-peer" file-sharing systems that have drawn complaints and lawsuits from the entertainment industry, people who allow data to be exchanged over LionShare can place limits on who can view specific files.

"It all comes down to how people share content and what restrictions they put on the content that they share," said Mike Halm, director of LionShare at Penn State, which started the project.

The secure, private network is meant for faculty, researchers and students to trade photos, research, class materials and other types of information that may be not be easily accessible through current technology.

Normally, a researcher looking for data would need to conduct separate, time-consuming searches at individual repositories — virtual warehouses where research databases, photos or other large files can be stored.  It may also difficult to download large data sets or video of, for instance, a deep-sea expedition.

LionShare, now being tested and slated for general release Sept. 30, combines the concepts of file-sharing and repository searching into a single search, Halm said.

Fred von Lohmann, an intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, said LionShare appears to be a great tool for Internet users who want to share files without having their own Web servers.

But von Lohmann, who represents a file-sharing service in a copyright infringement suit, warns that LionShare's access controls could possibly "create a neat, private sheltered place where people could shop music and movies to their heart's content" without entertainment companies ever knowing.