In a move aimed at stemming wide-scale online piracy on college campuses, Penn State University on Thursday reached a deal to offer thousands of students free access to the Napster music service.
Penn State President Graham Spanier said the school will offer students access to digital music and limited downloading from Napster’s newly relaunched music service at no cost.
Students can also buy permanent downloads that can be burned to CDs or transferred to portable devices for 99 cents each, he said.
Napster, the song-swap pioneer that revolutionized online music and turned the music industry upside down, was bought last year by Roxio Inc. in a bankruptcy auction.
A new legal version of the service was launched on Oct. 29, offering individual songs for 99 cents each, albums for $9.95 or unlimited monthly subscriptions for $9.95.
“There will be no additional costs to students for this service,” Spanier said, adding the program will be funded under a $160 information technology fee paid by students each semester that Penn State already had in place.
“The price we negotiated with Napster was so reasonable and possible to do within our fee structure,” said Spanier, noting the technology fee covers various services, including access to databases, modems and certain software.
A University spokesman said he did not think the fee would be raised as a result of this arrangement.
The press conference followed a panel on peer-to-peer file sharing featuring Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America.
These trade groups have spearheaded the entertainment industry’s campaign against online piracy.
“Learning the difference between right and wrong while students are on college campuses is really critical,” said Sherman during the conference.
Other universities are expected to launch pilot studies similar to this with various digital music providers in the coming months, Napster and Penn State said.
The deal is significant in that the song-swap revolution had its roots on university campuses where Napster first took hold in 1999.
Penn State, with about 83,000 students on several campuses, was one of several universities which banned the use of Napster on university computer networks in the midst of the record industry’s legal battle that eventually shut down the service.
“This will be the first step in a new, legal approach designed to meet student interest in getting extensive digital access to music,” Spanier said.
Penn State said student groups have already been testing the service. In the spring, it will provide access to Napster for about 18,000 students and make it available to all eligible students, as well as faculty and staff, next fall.
Ian Rosenberger, president of Penn State’s Undergraduate Student Government, said at the conference there were definitely two schools of thought among students.
“On the one hand, you’re going to have students who jump right on board,” he said, but added many student file-sharers were indignant at being labeled as criminals in the press.
“They don’t think of themselves as criminals and will be resistant to this,” Rosenberger said.
At its peak, Napster attracted over 60 million users before it was idled by copyright infringement litigation in 2001. Several similar unauthorized services, like Kazaa and Morpheus, have sprung up in its absence.
The music industry has blamed such file-sharing services for its sharp drop in music sales over the past three years.
Napster relaunched in an already crowded field of services aiming to convert online fans used to getting their music for free into paying customers.
One of the more successful services, Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes, launched a Windows version in October, while other services include RealNetworks Inc.’s Rhapsody and privately held firms like MusicMatch and BuyMusic.com.
On Thursday, Apple said music fans bought and downloaded 1.5 million songs from iTunes in the past week, while Napster reported selling 300,000 in the same period and said thousands had joined as subscribers.