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During the academic summer break, the University of Toronto at Scarborough campus is hardly a buzzing hive of activity. Final exams have long since wrapped up, and the few students moving throughout the halls are likely visitors or eager students taking part in summer programs. Unless of course you happen to be one of the very lucky and talented students that work for, the e-solutions hothouse that came out of nowhere in March and stunned Napster with their filter-busting software package.

The NapCameBack Encoder (now up to version 2.1), is a relatively simple program that can be downloaded for free at Users of file-sharing technologies, like Napster and Imesh, can download the Encoder and quickly gain access to one of the smartest online privacy solutions in recent memory. The software renames files using a proprietary encryption code, scrambling their titles beyond recognition.

That wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that Napster and many services like theirs, have recently implemented plans to block access to copyrighted materials by using
filters that work off of a list of popular artist names and song titles. But if the filters can’t recognize the songs, they can’t block them from being traded, a fact that should explain why PulseNewMedia has become one of the hottest stories in the technology sector since they released the Encoder on March 9th. It also explains the 1,000,000 plus registered users of the NapCameBack software and why the company is now beating off offers for partnerships and web development contracts with a stick.

Naturally, it wasn’t just Napster users and the media that took notice. On April 4th, the PNM crew received a letter from Napster’s lawyers in San Francisco requesting that they shut down their site and remove their Encoder software from the market. Under advisement from their legal counsel, Chillcott and his staff simply ignored the request.

“There did not seem to be any legal basis for their demands. We saw it as an alpha monkey banging a pot around to try and scare off a perceived threat. They’ve been leaning on their lawyers for so long they can’t remember what’s legal or illegal anymore.” says the 24-year-old CEO.

And how does the university feel about all this? PNM Director, Jordan Klassen smiles mischievously as he replies, “To be honest I think they’ve been a little worried about the copyright issues the Encoder raises. Despite their concerns, they’ve been very supportive of our rights. They’ve recognized that though we share space on campus we are an incorporated entity and we should fight our own battles. They’ve been very fair.”

He’s not joking either. Unofficial reports have suggested that the U of T administration was contacted by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) only days before Napster came gunning for the student web developers. Despite some threats of litigation if the university failed to shut down the NapCameBack operation, the bureaucrats seem to have stood their ground. Since early April all has been quiet on the legal front.

According to Mr. Klassen, PulseNewMedia arose out of a need to gain paid employment for the students that were working on a volunteer basis managing, the online media source and campus community at UofT. A frantic hiring in the summer of 2000 assembled one of the hottest pools of web talent in the country, and the group has since built over 25 sites and software solutions for clients across the globe. The idea for the NapCameBack project came out of a Monday morning brainstorming session, after Chillcott started wondering aloud about what it would take to break through the Napster filters.

Six weeks later the company has booked banner-advertising contracts and is even selling t-shirts and other merchandise through their websites for fans who just can’t get enough of the NapCameBack irony.

At press time, the NapCameBack innovators are fighting off a new wave of assaults from their enemies. Napster recently posted a message on their main web site forbidding their users from using services like the Encoder to counter their filters. There has also been talk of an audio based filtering system being added to the Napster superstructure, a wrinkle that could force the PNM team to work a little harder.

So what’s next for this powerhouse team of young web talent? Well, though Chillcott and Klassen won’t say exactly what they have planned, the duo claims that by late summer, they’ll be rolling out some new e-software that “will make the Encoder seem tame”. In the meantime, PNM is sorting through the dozens of requests they’ve received to build other companies’ web sites.
Says Tammy Lee, PNM PR Manager, “We’re swamped with work, but this is what school should be about… we’re learning in class and at Pulse… it’s just fantastic.”

Who says Canadian universities are in trouble?

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