April 21, 2004

College Music Services

Napster still raises concerns

By Bryan Farrell
Collegian Staff Writer
The courtship is complete. The wedding date is set. As of August 28, 2004, Napster will no longer be the pilot program for Penn State's landmark expedition into online music, but rather an equal partner with benefits extending to all students at University Park.

"I would consider it a success," said Sam Haldeman, assistant to the associate vice provost for information technology services. According to his estimates, 10,000 students signed up to use the service, which is 80 percent of the students on campus.

But in the five months since Penn State began its self-proclaimed "groundbreaking agreement," many of the same questions remain, including how much Penn State is paying Napster and why it is incompatible with Macintosh platforms.

While students may be feeling left in the dark, the university has bigger questions to tackle, such as whether it can successfully provide students with a legal alternative to music piracy.On the one hand, students like Andy Blessing (sophomore-electrical engineering) think the program has been a major asset.

"It offers a lot of music we listen to," Blessing said.

But on the other hand, he has no plans to buy the service after he graduates, which is the last thing Napster wants to hear.

"These are people who after they graduate will turn into our future customer base," said Dana Harris, director of corporate communications for Napster, of students.

Despite the precarious situation that exists between Napster and its involuntary student customers, other universitie are gaining interest.

The University of Rochester was the first private school to sign a deal with Napster, and the only school other than Penn State thus far. But according to Penn State officials and University of Rochester Provost Charles Phelps, universities are calling every day to find out how they can get involved with online music services.

"We want to cut down on illegal file sharing and find out if offering a legal alternative solves the problem," said Phelps, who serves on the same Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities. Penn State President Graham Spanier and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) President Cary Sherman also serve on the committee.

But while both universities remain optimistic, especially when pointing toward the number of students who have signed up for the service, Blessing put things in perspective.

"It's a better solution," the sophomore said. "But not the best. There is no way to get around not purchasing music and keeping it for yourself."

University perspective

Phelps likened the dilemma of music piracy to that of underage drinking. To prevent students from engaging in the illegal activity, Rochester offered alternative social events. And much like underage drinking, music piracy hurts the university.

"Large chunks of bandwidth get sucked up by file sharing," Phelps said. But Napster hosts songs locally, limiting strain on university networks while allowing students to download music legally.

As for the reason the University of Rochester chose Napster, Phelps said it was the service with the most advanced catalog and the best pricing system. The university pays on a month-to-month basis, using "general university funds for compensation."

Napster will remain in a pilot study at Rochester for another year.

"We were proud and very enthusiastic [that other schools are following our lead]," said Haldeman, the university official responsible for choosing Napster at Penn State. "It shows that higher education is recognizing its role."

But as more subpoenas reach the administrative offices of universities, that role may not be as noble educator but legal informant. Out of 532 lawsuits in the latest round of copyright infringement suits filed by the RIAA, 89 targeted students. To find students suspected of illegal downloading, the RIAA must get names from university files.

Both Haldeman and Phelps said their universities would comply with any legal subpoenas asking for the names of students, whom companies can identify by their IP addresses.

Haldeman said his heart goes out to the nine students at New York University who were issued lawsuits because they did not realize the consequences of illegal downloading, but he said it is something students must recognize.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they had to settle for less than $50,000," Haldeman said.

Problems still exist

Despite reports of layoffs within the Napster company and the cancellation of a deal that would have put the Napster icon on every Hewlett-Packard computer, the company maintains its business is doing fine.

"We never announced any layoffs," said Harris, a public relations spokesperson for Napster. "We did it to get rid of redundant positions. When Roxio bought Napster, a lot of the same positions existed."

Both Penn State and Rochester are optimistic that Napster will stay in business.

"I hope they do [stay in business]," Phelps said. "We have a contract."

But Haldeman said Penn State is prepared to move on to another service should Napster falter.

"We will always keep the option open if strong competition offered us a better service," he said. "Napster still seems like the best. But if there is better competition our attention will be drawn to it."

One service, Apple's iTunes, is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

"We have said publicly that we want to talk to Apple," Harris said. But Apple has yet responded to the public statements.

Despite multiple phone calls, a representative from iTunes could not be reached for comment. Phelps suggested students "go talk to Steve Jobs," CEO of Apple, because the Macintosh platform does not accommodate Microsoft Digital Rights Management, a security feature used by copyright holders to protect their media.

"I suggested to others in the industry that they adopt open single standard encryption methods," Haldeman said. "But they don't recognize the discomfort it is causing students."

The biggest complaint against Napster, however, is the lack of major artists' albums, like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. And both universities have set up sites where students can submit the names of songs or artists they want to see on Napster, which says it adds thousands of new songs each week.

Both iTunes and Napster claim to have over 500,000 songs available for download from all five major music companies, but only iTunes mentions offering songs from more than 300 independent labels.

"The university should and does tell Napster to add more independent bands," Haldeman said. "We need to try harder to find independent labels and improve upon getting away from major labels."

Phelps said Rochester has been able to add local artists to Napster and suggested that Penn State do the same.

"I would love to create an opportunity for students and bands to spread their music," Haldeman said. "I sent e-mails to some bands about starting a college station on Napster featuring Penn State bands, but I don't yet have a desire from any band. Students should make that desire evident to me."

Haldeman said it would be a lengthy process to make local bands' songs available for download on Napster. Napster has more than 50 of its own radio stations. The creation of a college station would be easier to set up, Haldeman said, if he received enough interest.

"It's a chance for bands on a college level to have millions listen to their music," he said. "I don't know why it hasn't happened yet."

Skepticism remains

Brian Morrison (junior-film and video) began posting fliers around campus last semester titled "Do You Know About Bad Napster?" Several weeks ago, a friend told him that MTV News did a piece about Penn State and Napster, and for a brief couple of seconds, showed his flier to millions of people worldwide.

The gist of Morrison's anti-Napster campaign was to show that Napster is feeding an already rich music industry and disguising itself as a medium for free entertainment. Although he isn't willing to admit defeat, Morrison said the odds are stacked against him.

When Napster held information sessions in the HUB-Robeson Center, Morrison distributed copies of his flier in front of the company's table.

"They know I am not a force to be reckoned with. They know that the $20 I spent to distribute the fliers almost broke the bank. You can't fight city hall," he said. "But if this had been seen as any kind of issue, there might have been a reaction."

Morrison said most students are passive, and he doesn't blame them. He does, however, think the universities involved with Napster have acted in a more reproachable manner.

"I wanted to see the universities backing the students," he said. "I wanted them to make a statement that the music industry stopped being an efficient business. And show that it needs to find new ways to compete instead of going back to a system [that only worked before the Internet]."

Morrison said he advises students to avoid using Napster simply because it is there.

"It is like helping Napster publicize itself," he said. "It's like casting a vote."

While students like Blessing remain ambivalent and students like Morrison cast stones at the university, both say that the program has only mitigated the problem of music piracy.

"File sharing is like a hydra," Morrison said. "You cut off one head, and two appear."

Napster still raises concerns

Posted by Craig at April 21, 2004 04:08 PM