The newly relaunched Napster music service announced a deal with Pennsylvania State University Thursday to give students access to music funded by student fees, in an attempt to replace campus file-swapping with legal listening. The trial project is the first of what will likely be a number of similar efforts over the next year, as colleges work with online music services and record labels to offer students authorized alternatives to networks such as Kazaa.
"This will be the first step in a new, legal approach designed to meet student interest in getting extensive digital access to music,” said Penn State President Graham Spanier. “With the stepped-up enforcement efforts of the (Recording Industry Association of America) and concerns that students have about the legality or illegality of what they’re doing, we think students will be excited about this.”
Campuses have been seen as key contributors to digital music swapping networks since the appearance of Napster in 1999, and university administrators have been seeking ways to ameliorate legal risk and stress on their own networks.
Since last spring, that quest has focused in part on finding ways to provide students with alternatives to downloading music through services such as Kazaa. Representatives of several major universities met with the leading music services May in an attempt to start a discussion between the two communities, and colleges issued an official call for proposals not long afterward.
Spanier and the president of the Recording Industry Association of America, Cary Sherman, served as co-chairs of a joint industry-university committee formed to evaluate music services for campus use, among other activities.
By offering free access — or access funded by school fees — labels and music services hope that students will develop habits that continue when they leave college.
“This deal encourages a new generation to try a legitimate service, enjoy and adopt it, and later when they have more time and money, continue it,” said Mike Bebel, President of Napster, which is a subsidiary of CD- and DVD-burning software company Roxio.
The on-campus service at Penn State will give students free access to unlimited streams of music or access to “tethered” downloads that can only be used on a few PCs, and which will expire when the student stops subscribing to Napster. Students will have to pay full price — 99 cents per song — if they want to keep a permanent download or burn the song to a CD.
About 18,000 students will have access to the service when the trial begins in January, campus officials said. By next fall, the school plans to offer the service to all students and staff, and ultimately even members of the alumni association.
The service will be funded through an existing $160 per semester information technology fee students are required to pay in order to have access to a wide range of campus computer resources. This type of arrangement has drawn some criticism from people who say educational fees should not be used to subsidize entertainment, or to prop up flagging record company revenues.
Lanier said his university has had not complaints about the fees, however. He cited other precedents at Penn State, including programs that fund newspaper subscriptions and dorm-room cable TV access through student fees. The university was able to negotiate a price from Napster that allowed the service to be funded without raising fees, he said.
Ian Rosenberger, president of Penn State’s student government, said the service would likely spark some controversy among students who resent being targeted by lawsuits and singled out for criticism because of file-swapping services.
“The important thing to remember is that this is a vast culture shift for students across the country,” Rosenberger said. “You’ll have some students that are going to jump on board, downloading thousands of songs. ... But there will be another school of thought, (those) who don’t think they’re criminals. They’re going to be resistant to the service.”
Colleges have also been working on other fronts to curb student file swapping. Education efforts expanded exponentially with the return of students to campus this year, with many colleges providing mini-lessons on copyright law as a condition of signing up for university network access.
Increasing numbers of colleges have been using network monitoring tools that identify file-swapping network traffic, slowing it down or blocking it altogether.
Other campuses have been independently talking to music services over the past few months, and several are expected to launch similar projects early next year.
The deal won quick praise from lawmakers and industry executives who have been critical of the role of college campuses in feeding file-swapping networks.
“Today’s agreement establishes Penn State as a leader in the fight against the illegal sharing of songs on peer-to-peer networks,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has been a strong supporter of the recording industry’s recent spate of lawsuits against file swappers. “If other colleges and universities take similar steps the widespread violation of intellectual property rights on campuses will be sharply reduced.”
The deal was announced in Los Angeles at a conference sponsored by Educause, a group focused on educational technology.