U. considering legal alternatives for student music downloads

Monday, February 7, 2005

Students and administrators met last Friday with representatives from four music download services to investigate the possibility of bringing legal music downloads to campus. David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services, described the meeting as “exploratory.”

“We’re trying to see whether it’s useful to think about bringing this service to Brown,” Greene said, both for its “entertainment value” and its possible educational benefits.

The four services presented at the meeting were Rhapsody, Cdigix, Ruckus and Napster.

The committee, which was meeting for the first time, is made up of administrators from Computing and Information Services and the Office of Campus Life and Student Services, as well as students from the Undergraduate Council of Students.

Also present was Marcel Garaud, vice president for new technology at Sony BMG Music Entertainment, who works as a facilitator for the Campus Action Network, an industry group that works with college campuses and music services.

Colleges across the country are caught up in the issue of illegal music downloads. Last year, the Recording Industry Association of America filed a subpoena against the University for information about two apparent users of Brown’s computer network it had sued for illegal file-sharing.

While not a “direct response” to any legal incident, Greene said the University is certainly interested in finding “alternatives for students to download music legally.”

“Brown isn’t going to be able to protect its students for too much longer” from the RIAA, said Sarah Saxton-Frump ’07, student activities chair for UCS and a participant in Friday’s meeting.

Other universities have turned to legal music services as such an alternative. According to Avery Kotler, senior director for business and legal affairs at Napster, 13 campuses currently use the Napster campus program, which was developed in partnership with Pennsylvania State University.

Music “is one of the things that touches students daily,” Kotler said, and companies such as Napster are seeking to replace illegal music sharing with legal music downloads and streaming.

There were “differences of opinion” among committee members over the four services presented Friday, according to Ben Creo ’07, appointments chair for UCS.

The services vary widely in capabilities, with two strictly offering music and the other two also offering movies and other media. Some offer only streaming music from the Internet, while others allow “tethered downloads” of songs which can play on a computer but cannot be burned onto a CD or placed on a digital music player without additional costs. Even with the extra costs, only one service, Rhapsody, will work with the popular Apple iPod, Saxton-Frump said, who also noted none of the programs work on the Macintosh operating system.

The prices of the four services are considered proprietary information and could not be shared, but Greene did say there was a great deal of difference in cost among the services. How the University could finance this project has not yet been discussed, but Creo said he opposes using the student activities fee to fund a music service.

But there were definitely one or two attractive options among the programs presented, Creo and Saxton-Frump said.

“Everyone’s going to use this program” if the University implements it, Saxton-Frump said. “I’d bet on it.”

If the University decides to go forward with a music service, it would probably be implemented in the next academic year, Greene said, though the current semester was not out of the question. Creo said he felt the general consensus of the committee was to try to roll out the program this semester.

The committee will meet again this week to discuss the presentations.

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