Sensing other methods were not productive, Penn State University officials began a new strategy for combating the problem of illegal file sharing on their campuses by allowing students to legally download songs for free starting Jan. 9.
In a deal that is the first of its kind, Penn State has teamed up with the Napster online music service to allow the university’s 17,000 on-campus students to register for the service’s premium plan for free. Funding for the arrangement is provided through the students’ $145 information technology service fee that is already included in their tuition.
Under the Napster premium plan, students are able to stream music to their computers or download tethered music files that only play on Penn State’s campus. The streaming operates in the same manner as Internet radio or streamed movies where pieces of data are sent to the computer as the media file is playing.
The tethered downloads only allow students to play the files on computers located at Penn State. Once they leave the campus, they lose the right to play the files.
Although students can stream an unlimited amount of content to their computers, they have to pay 99 cents for each track if they are interested in burning or transferring it onto a portable music device.
According to statistics provided by Penn State on Jan. 11, by 9 a.m. of the first day more than 2,600 of the approximately 17,000 on-campus residents had signed up for the service. By 3 p.m. there were about 100,000 downloads or stream requests to the service.
Tysen Kendig, university spokesman for Penn State, said the decision to form the partnership was based on the recurring problem that colleges face with file sharing.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that illegal file sharing and music piracy have found a breeding ground in higher education because of the high-speed lines,” Kendig said. “As a result of this, Congress was saying that universities needed to fix this problem and fix it quick.”
Kendig said the administration understood that times were changing and they needed to come up with a solution to help ease the problem.
“We are dealing with a societal mindset that thinks stealing music is OK, and it’s not OK,” Kendig said. “We have just gone about giving the students a legal way in which to fill their need for the music.”
Penn State is testing the service with its on-campus community in an effort to see how they will need to adjust their infrastructure in order to handle the increased traffic load. The university plans on offering the service to all 83,000 students in the fall, with faculty, alumni and staff qualifying for reduced-price memberships.
Penn State struck the deal with Napster on Nov. 6 after considering several other online music stores. The contract runs for 18 months and allows Penn State to renew if it chooses.
While Penn State may be experimenting with this technology, Alex Campoe, associate director of USF computer systems, said USF is not pursuing the idea. Campoe said he believes that file sharing should not be a main concern of higher education.
“I think that was a very controversial step that Penn State took,” Campoe said. “My question is where does the sharing of music fit into the pursuit of your scholarly research?”
Campoe said the decision to adopt the service has caused some complaint from students at Penn State.
“You are asking (students who don’t use the service) to use part of their tuition to fund these other people even if they are not using it,” Campoe said.
Another problem that has been brought to the attention of school officials is Napster’s lack of support for operating systems other than Windows 2000 and XP. This factor leaves many students who own Macs or PCs with other operating systems without the opportunity to utilize the service.
USF senior Joe Jordan believes the decision to implement the program is good, but said that certain aspects of the online music store still need to be eliminated in order for the program to have broad acceptance.
“This is a good first step, but as long as the music is downloaded with restrictions and rights management, people will always turn to free services where they can get the same or higher quality recordings without all the limitations of these pay-for programs,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the problem of illegal song trading could be curbed if the Recording Industry Association of America would look to former programs to see the reasons behind their success.
“Learn from what made Napster, and now Kazaa, the most popular programs online,” Jordan said. “Their services were popular because of the price, convenience and catalog. If record labels make the music free of digital restrictions while charging a fair amount per month for unlimited downloads and provide faster and more reliable downloading, they could severely limit the illegal downloading of music.”
One problem that could be looming for all sites that sell music is the ability of hackers to crack the encryption code for downloaded songs. This would become troublesome for the services, because the limits on the amount of times a file can be put on a CD, portable music player or other computers would be removed.
This loss of security could also allow individuals to share the music with others across the Internet. Because the system utilizes Windows Media Player, it has a fault in that users can readily find programs that allow them to record a data file for the streaming content that can later be converted into a music file that is free of digital restrictions.
Copying songs using this method is similar to using cassettes to record music off the radio.
Even though some may be opposed to the service, others feel it would be a welcome addition to USF.
Linus Surgeon, a senior at USF, said he would be willing to accept the service if it were put in place at USF but worries about the cost.
“I think it’s good because then students won’t have to worry about getting into trouble for downloading songs,” Surgeon said. “The only problem is that tuition prices might increase.”
Although he would accept the program, Surgeon believes that it would still not completely solve the problem of illegal file sharing.
“I don’t think illegal downloading will stop completely, but I think that for the most part if people know that they can download music, because they’ve paid for it through tuition, then they’ll do it the legal way,” Surgeon said.
Penn State’s experiment may be the first of its kind, but according to Penn State President Graham B. Spanier, the idea for the system will soon be put into place in other schools.
“I’ve been in touch with several other colleges and universities who are watching what we’re doing and are in discussions with various music providers, and I see this being deployed at other colleges and universities throughout the United States,” Spanier said at a news conference Jan. 12.
Because this type of endeavor has never been attempted before, there will probably be several schools monitoring its progress. It still remains to be seen if other schools will be willing to take the chance, or maintain their policy of trying to fight the problem of illegal file sharing the best they can.
Although Spanier mentioned that he had been in talks with other schools about the possibility that they will begin a similar venture at their institution, Campoe said he has heard the opposite in regards to adoption.
“I haven’t heard of any other schools that are planning on pursuing this same angle,” Campoe said. “I think that everyone is on a hold pattern to see if this goes anywhere or if it’s worth it. It would be interesting to see if Penn State is considering renewing the contracts when that time comes.”