Fan-Run Smashing Pumpkins Archive may Lose Home

The Smashing Pumpkins Audio Archive hosts over 900 cuts in MP3 format.

Staff Writer Chris Nelson reports:

Although the Smashing Pumpkins highly-anticipated fourth album Adore won't make it to stores until next month, that doesn't mean that the band's fans have nothing new to listen to. In fact, if they a have access to a computer and some simple software, the fan-run Smashing Pumpkins Audio Archive offers more than 900 Pumpkins tracks for free download.

Or rather, it did, until last Friday.

That's when 19-year-old Shan Pin Koh received a letter from Michigan Technological University informing him that by hosting the SPAA on his web server, he was engaging in "computer misuse." A hearing scheduled for Wednesday is to determine whether Koh's penalty will be a warning, expulsion or something in between.

Koh, who said he was shocked by the charges, said he believes the site is providing a service by offering mostly live Pumpkins tracks in near-CD quality MP3 technology.

"I used to live in Malaysia, and we don't have concerts like this in my country," said the electrical engineering student from his home at the school in Houghton, Mich. "If somebody records it and publishes it, that's a good way for us to enjoy the songs."

Surely, the scores of other Smashing Pumpkins fans who use the SPAA agree. Among the cuts housed in the archive are live versions of songs from Adore that Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan debuted earlier this year at a rare, acoustic club performance. With 900 tracks in the database, nearly any Pumpkins fan is likely to find something he or she is searching for.

Representatives from MTU's Information Technology Department were unavailable for comment.

Koh said he believes the school is under the mistaken impression that he charges SPAA maintainer Josh Provost for the space on his personal server, which is connected to the university's computer network.

Provost, who founded the site in June 1996, said Monday that Koh, his friend of two years, has never charged him for space on the server, which has been the SPAA's home for the past two months. Moreover, Provost said he has word from the band that they approve of the archive.

"Through a friend of the band, we had verbal permission," said the 20-year-old systems engineer from Phoenix, Ariz. "They told us that Billy has been to the site and is a fan of the site and that it's okay with him. We've never had any written permission. But I was told though a friend of the band's that if it weren't for Billy knowing the site and liking the site, we would have been gone a long time ago."

Gayle Fine, a spokeswoman for the Pumpkins, said she is unaware whether the band is familiar with the site or whether they approve of it.

One thing is for certain: a lot of Smashing Pumpkins fans do approve of the SPAA.

"I'm looking for different versions of songs, songs that they only play live," said Mike Hamilton, an 18-year-old student at W.T. Wagner High School in Edmonton, Alberta, who began frequenting the SPAA last year. "It went down in December because Josh needed server space, and everyone was wondering where it went and when it'd be back up. And since it went back up, some people have downloaded all the songs in case it went back down again. It's pretty valuable."

Representatives at Virgin Records, for whom the Smashing Pumpkins record, did not return calls for this story.

Provost said he's never been contacted by Virgin about the site, nor has he been approached by the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade association that has sent numerous cease-and-desist orders to MP3 sites over the past year.

"We're definitely anti-piracy," Provost said. "We're not trying to break the latest album and get it up there in advance. We're here to get free, quality material out to fans. It makes it easier than trading tapes with people and running a risk of getting ripped of with bootlegs. And it's also a reference library. There's a lot of points on lyrics that are debated on newsgroups and mailing lists, and people can go download a file and listen to it."

Provost's biggest concern at the moment is what will be the consequences of his friend Koh's hearing on Wednesday. "It might be a drain on university resources, but on Shan's part there is definitely no malicious intent," he said.

Meanwhile, Provost said he's already had several offers from other Pumpkins fans to host the SPAA on their servers.