The MP3 Eating "Spider"
12th March 1999
By Pete Brush

NEW YORK ( -- As GeoCities feels the heat from the music industry to combat MP3 abuse, it's also fighting a battle to protect its reputation as a place where people can express themselves freely.

"We're getting a bad rap out there," said spokesman Bruce Zanca.

Long the butt of chat-room humor, GeoCities is getting especially vicious treatment lately in Internet chat halls on their methods of rooting out illegitimate MP3 files.

"It's not like we're "spidering" for MP3 and just zapping them out of there," said Zanca.

GeoCities: "We like MP3"

Jeff Megargell, who had parts of his GeoCities site removed, claims a seek-and-destroy "spider" -- a nickname for a computerized robot that seeks out certain character strings (in this case .mp3) -- ate parts of his Web site. All around GeoCities, Megargell and others say, gutted MP3s can be found like so many dead moths in a real spider's web.

But Megargell, whose site has since moved off GeoCities, is telling the company's patrons that he's wised up:

"All anyone has to do is change the .mp3 file extension to .tgz or .jpg or really anything; it's that simple," he said. "The spider that GeoCities uses to find .mp3s can't pick them up. Nobody wants to actually sit down and find every single file that was changed."

It's a charge GeoCities emphatically denies.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Zanca said of the "spidering" accusation. "We encourage GeoCities members to use this technology. We like MP3, but we just can't condone stealing."

Zanca said the company removes only illegitimate MP3 files when their presence is "brought to our attention."

Others aren't so sure.

"I have many complaints with GeoCities," wrote one chatter calling himself SyneRyder. "I uploaded two MP3 files to my site, and the files were deleted without my permission and without any warning. They never notified me. I've now been forced to buy server space elsewhere." His new site is called

Even if GeoCities isn't spidering, and even if the company gives due diligence before deleting questionable content, the site has a reputations for Draconian tactics, and not just among the denizens of chat rooms:

"I can imagine that GeoCities, with the ease that people can get virtually untraceable accounts there, could have real problems with pirate sites, both for music and software," said Mike Stewart, a former GeoCities user who now works as administrator for AT&T Worldnet. "I have heard a few times that they tend to just remove things without explanation or recourse."

"Wise up GeoCities!"

Other users complain that GeoCities is attacking shareware sites in its domains that offer the software needed to hear and make MP3 files. In a relatively high-profile incident, GeoCities removed one site that shared a popular MP3 "encoder". The deletion set off howls of protest across the Web.

"You would think that someone might realize what's illegal and what's not. Wise up GeoCities!" complained one angry chatter.

Zanca declined to divulge the exact screening methods his company uses to distinguish "good" MP3 files from those that violate copyright law. Other officials in the company say GeoCities has put in place an "Alert Staff" of five whose main task is to screen the domain for inappropriate content including pornography, hate speech, "signpost sites" leading users elsewhere and pirated music.

Due to the size of the GeoCities domain, Zanca said, "there is some level of automation in the communication" made to a user suspected of trafficking pirated music -- or any illicit content. But, Zanca said, users always receiving a warning before their content is removed.

And -- as if for good measure -- Zanca reiterated:

"We do not use a spider."

Pete Brush is a writer, editor and musician.

Comment from namesuppressed

Despite the inference made in the article regarding namesuppressed and "illegitimate MP3s", namesuppressed has never distributed MP3s we didn't own the copyright to or have permission to distribute, whether on the Geocities server or at the "new server" (which we've been using for 5 years now). The two MP3 files that magically disappeared from the Geocities site were copies of the namesuppressed tracks Endless Green and Hockey Mad, taken from the 1997 Rubicon album.

While at the time I believed my disappearing MP3 files were a result of deliberate removal of all MP3 media by Geocities, I'm now inclined to believe that it was a Geocities server failure or something else that caused the files to be lost. Either way, it freaked me out enough to change to a new hosting provider, and the change was one of the best decisions I made.

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