Students Give Napster Passing Grade But Say Work Is Needed

By | February 16, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Access to the new, improved and perfectly legitimate version of the Napster file-sharing software was given to students at Penn State University this semester as a way to show them that downloading music doesn’t have to run afoul of copyright laws.

More than 17,000 students living in on-campus residence halls were offered access Napster 2.0’s premium service, which allows for unlimited streaming and tethered downloading (playback on only one machine) of the more than 500,000 songs comprising the Napster library. Should they want to burn a downloaded song, it would cost them about 99 cents, the industry standard for a la carte tracks.

About a month into the semester, roughly 9,000 students are utilizing the service and streaming or downloading about 100,000 songs per day, according to a Napster spokesperson.

“I like the service,” student Isa Bangora said, “because it prevents you from downloading viruses and things like that.”

As any user of Kazaa or similar file-sharing networks can attest, downloading the software often brings with it pop-up ads or, worse, “spyware” that tracks your surfing and sends the information back to spam-crazy marketing firms.

Users also seemed to prefer the extra features, such as the online radio stations and the ability to see other users’ playlists.

“If you’re downloading a certain type of artist, I like that they’ll have a whole list of other artists that are of the same kind of music,” said 20-year-old sophomore Robbie Thomas. “So if you like one band, you may like these other ones too…. The only down part is that they don’t have all of the songs that I’ve looked for.”

Thomas’ complaint is a common one. Only five of the top 10 albums being played on college radio, according to trade magazine College Music Journal, were found on the Napster network. And for some artists, only a select few songs were available.

Among the other student complaints was the fact that the streaming service, which would seem ideal for students who listen to music through their computer while doing homework, did not fully apply to every song. Some could be streamed entirely, while others only yielded a 30-second sample.

Students also encountered some difficulty when attempting to transfer songs they purchased to their portable digital music players. Those with an iPod, for example, would have to first burn the song onto a CD, then rip an MP3 off that CD using their iPod software, an extra step that many felt was not worth it the trouble.

“Napster, the way it is today, is not going to stop illegal activity as long as Kazaa is around,” 19-year-old sophomore Marina Medvinsky said. “You’re not going to have problems [finding some songs] or only listening to 30 seconds of a song. You are going to have the entire song on Kazaa, and you can download it to CD and have no problems.”

Medvinsky, however, admitted that with more practice she might have a better experience. Still, she preferred using Napster over Kazaa for the simple fact that she felt safe from viruses, unwanted ads and the threat of lawsuits by the recording industry.

“I have to get used to it more,” she said. “Right now I’m using it more than the other music sites, so I like it better just because I feel safe with it. I don’t want to be doing anything that is illegal. I’m getting what I want and I’m safe, but I’m still not getting exactly what I want.”

Even some of those who are using the legal service aren’t exactly playing on the right side of the fence. Burning a song to CD is supposed to cost 99 cents, but some crafty students have found a way around that by connecting two computers and having one record what the other is streaming.

“You tell a college student not to do something and they’re going to find a way to do it,” Medvinsky said. “They want to outsmart it, that’s what students want to do. They want to be smarter than the world.”

Following in Penn State’s footsteps, the University of Rochester will begin offering Napster to an estimated 3,700 resident-hall students later this semester. While it may not be the perfect solution to stop illegal file-sharing on campus, most of those who use it see it as a step in the right direction.

“Providing people an alternative is definitely the right way of going about it,” Thomas said. “Maybe if they keep putting more and more music on this new Napster, then eventually people will start using it 100 percent instead of Kazaa.”

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