In the war over music piracy, download-happy college students are on one side of the line, the record industry is on the other and universities are caught in the middle.
Now some schools are taking steps to keep the two sides at peace.
A growing number of schools have forged partnerships with legal downloading services like Napster Inc. to subsidize their students’ music habits in some cases footing the entire bill to encourage legal on-campus music activity.
L.A.-based Napster has signed up more than 40 universities in the past two years, offering its $9.95 per month subscription service at a deep discount to the universities. The colleges typically subsidize the service further so students pay only a nominal amount.
USC began offering Napster to students last July, charging $20 per year. In New York, Cornell University offers the service to its 13,000 undergrads for free.
Napster, too, is eating some of the cost. But it doesn’t mind if it can gain customers in the critical 18- to-24-year-old age group.
“It’s not the major part of our revenues the more significant idea is that it’s a way for Napster to get into people’s lives,” said Avery Kotler, senior director of business and legal affairs. The company negotiated discounts with record labels in order to offer the service to students “in a way that wasn’t margin-negative,” Kotler said.
At local universities, technology directors and deans are looking for ways to navigate the tricky issue of on-campus music downloads.
The Recording Industry Association of America has filed more than 12,000 copyright infringement lawsuits many of them against students. The legal strategy has placed pressure on universities to increase enforcement. But that’s a costly undertaking, and music isn’t the only intellectual property flowing through campus computer networks. File-sharing policies have to take into account a broader set of concerns.
“The greatest challenge you have as a university is balancing academic freedom and intellectual property rights,” said Erin Griffin, vice president for information technology at Loyola Marymount University.
There’s also the fact that L.A. is home to the entertainment and recording industries.
“We do consider ourselves to be under the microscope on this, probably more than other schools,” said James Davis, UCLA’s IT director. “That’s led us to work closely with entertainment companies close by to meet our needs on this issue.”
UCLA is in the process of choosing a digital music provider.
Last year, the University of California system selected four companies that each of its 10 campuses can choose from: Napster, Cdigix Inc., which offers music and movies and is directed at the university market; Sony Corp., whose yet-to-be completed service will combine music, games and other media; and Mindawn, a digital music service based on the open-source Linux operating system. Mindawn is owned by theKompany.com Inc., based in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Loyola Marymount University officials have talked with Napster and Herndon, Va.-based Ruckus Inc., but no agreement has been reached because the university wants to support both Macintosh and PC users, Griffin said. Neither program supports Mac users.
LMU monitors its network for illegal transactions and can detect copyright-protected files.
At some participating colleges, which include the Pennsylvania State Universities, University of Miami, University of North Carolina and George Washington University, Napster has signed up 60 percent to 70 percent of eligible students, Kotker said. (Schools typically offer the service only to residential students through the dorms.)
Several other companies have popped up to target universities. Englewood, Colo.-based Cdigix offers music and movies to 21 schools; Ruckus Inc. has 10.
But Napster has taken the lead, announcing a partnership with Dell Computer Corp. last month to offer universities Dell servers enabled with the Napster service, combined with a student discount for Dell’s mp3 players. The server option is attractive for universities, Kotler said, because Napster can load a colleges’ most popular music onto a server, creating a contained music library on-campus and easing bandwidth traffic on the universities’ main network.
Apple Computer Corp., whose iTunes service is the only legal service that works with its immensely popular iPod device, hasn’t been offering a special program to universities. But it does have a volume discount program, which allows universities to buy a large number of songs for its students at a discount price.
Duke University last year provided 1,650 free iPods to incoming freshmen and Apple created a dedicated Duke page on iTunes. Some of Duke’s language programs are using the service for educational purposes.
Despite university efforts to increase compliance, some school officials say the music industry isn’t going far enough to help solve the problem.
The cease-and-desist letters that the RIAA sends out involve considerable work tracking down student violators, said Kathee Robings, senior director of information technology at Pepperdine. She thinks the industry should take a more active role in funding programs that will divert downloads into the legal sphere.
“The record industry really has to meet us halfway,” she said. “If we had better tools, we could do a better job, but they’re expensive.”