The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 50.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Penn State Agrees to Cover Cost of Downloading Music

By Amy Harmon

The New York Times -- Pennsylvania State University has agreed to cover the cost of providing its students with a legal method to download music from a catalog of half a million songs, in a departure from previous efforts to curtail music swapping on college campuses.

The deal between Penn State and the newly rehabilitated Napster online service is expected to serve as a model for other universities. It comes as the record industry steps up the pressure on students and college administrators in its anti-piracy campaign.

Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State, said it was the first time a college had taken it upon itself to provide music to its students.

“It is unusual,” Spanier said. “But today’s college students have told us how important this is to them, and with the record industry’s new enforcement efforts, we think they’ll be very excited to participate.”

For some students, the deal may make it seem as if Prohibition has ended and drinks are on the house.

The service will allow students to listen to an unlimited number of songs as often as they want. They will be able to download the music to use on three personal computers as long as they are at Penn State, but if they want to keep the songs permanently or burn them to a CD they will have to pay 99 cents each.

Spanier said the university was able to strike a deal that allowed it to provide the Napster service as part of the $160 information technology fee students pay each year. The cost to the university is “substantially less” than the $9.95 fee that individual subscribers pay for the Napster service, he said, though he declined to disclose the precise terms.

As voracious consumers of music, college students have been key drivers of the file-sharing epidemic begun in 1999 by Napster, the brainchild of Shawn Fanning, then a college student.

Napster went bankrupt after a federal judge ruled in 2001 that it had violated copyright laws. It was relaunched last month offering individual songs for 99 cents, albums for $9.95 or monthly subscriptions for $9.95.

Ian Rosenberger, president of the undergraduate student government at Penn State, said one of the students he had shown the service to had told him that he thought it was great. But Rosenberger quickly added that other students were more skeptical of the university’s service.

“There’s been a lot of attention paid to students as criminals,” he said, “and people who download don’t see themselves that way.”

Over the last year the record industry has sued a number of students suspected of illegally trading music over the Internet. Like many colleges, Penn State has used a variety of measures, from mandatory copyright tutorials to suspending Internet access, to try to clamp down on music-swapping. A number of colleges have adopted software programs that monitor file-swapping among their students, sending e-mail messages warning students that they are breaking the law as the first step in imposing penalties aimed at stopping the practice.

But university officials and the record industry are hoping that the Napster carrot will succeed where various sticks have failed in undermining the campus culture of unauthorized copying.