Researchers at Penn State and other universities have developed a tool to help educators and researchers search for and exchange large academic or scientific files more easily–using the principles most associated with trading music and movies illegally.

But unlike the free “peer-to-peer” (P2P) 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 project at Pennsylvania State University, where the project originated.

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

“It’s a lot more than [an] academic Napster,” he said, speaking about the project at a Sept. 20 meeting of the Internet2 consortium in Philadelphia. The consortium is a partnership of universities, businesses, and government agencies working together “to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies.”

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 also might be difficult to download large data sets or video of, for instance, a deep-sea expedition.

LionShare, now being tested and slated for general release on Sept. 30, combines the concepts of P2P file sharing–or exchanging files directly between computers, without the use of a file server–and repository searching into a single search, “like Google-searching the internet,” 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 academics.

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

But Von Lohmann, who represents a file-sharing service in a copyright infringement suit, warns that 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” without entertainment companies ever knowing.

A Penn State news release about LionShare states several times that the technology is aimed at academic file sharing, not swapping copyright-protected works.

Halm said LionShare was spearheaded by Penn State researchers and developed in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Open Knowledge Initiative, the Internet2 P2P Working Group, and researchers at 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.

Links:

Penn State University
http://www.psu.edu

LionShare
http://lionshare.its.psu.edu/main

Internet2
http://www.internet2.edu

Electronic Frontier Foundation
http://www.eff.org

MIT’s Open Knowledge Initiative
http://www.okiproject.org

Simon Fraser University
http://www.sfu.ca