Nov 122003
 
Authors: Joe Marshall

A revolution has commenced.

In the first agreement of its kind, Pennsylvania State

University and Napster signed a deal Nov. 6 granting all Penn State

students memberships to the file sharing company’s “premium”

service at no additional charge to students. A win-win for both

sides, the deal frees the institution from liabilities incurred by

students downloading pirated music files and gives Napster a

tangible customer base in a prime age group.

This agreement also presents a golden opportunity for the

students of Colorado State: if we can establish our own

file-sharing deal without the active guidance of the CSU

administration, CSU would become the first institution to adopt the

service principally as an avenue of commerce and not as a tool to

reduce liability. By altering this main motivation for group

membership, CSU would establish itself alongside both Penn State

and Napster as an innovator in a new era of communication.

The new version of Napster, along with Apple’s iTunes, hopes to

harness the wild popularity of online file sharing and make the

practice profitable. Fundamentally different from the old version

of Napster and other file swapping services like Kazaa, Napster 2.0

and iTunes offer music, video and internet radio via a central

server as opposed to the person-to-person format which the other

older services use. This has advantages and disadvantages, the most

notable being that the quality of a download on the new systems is

guaranteed, but a permanent download isn’t free. Both new services

charge 99 cents to permanently download a song and $9.95 for an

album.

Napster 2.0 does have a main marketing advantage over iTunes by

offering what it calls a “premium” subscription service; for $9.95

a month, users have access to unlimited streaming downloads of most

of the 500,000 songs in Napster’s library as well as video files

and 40 commercial-free internet radio stations. As long as their

subscription is current, users are allowed to keep and listen to

files on their hard drive at no extra charge. If a user wants to

burn a song onto CD or transfer the file onto another medium, they

must pay 99 cents for it.

This subscription is what Penn State purchased and will make

available to all its 83,000 students over the next year. How much

did it cost the university? Bill Mahon, Penn State’s assistant vice

president of university relations said, “We have negotiated an

agreement with Napster that is so low we are not permitted to say

the price.” He further elaborated on how the service would be paid

by Penn State’s University Technology fee, and how the current fee

will not need to be increased to accommodate the service. After

speaking with Mahon and taking into account the amount of business

Napster will gain from the deal, it is not unrealistic to estimate

the percent discount Penn State is receiving is somewhere in the

range of 99 to 100 percent, if not more, for 83,000 monthly

subscriptions.

Colorado State could be given a similar discount if we could

somehow separate ourselves from the bandwagon of other schools

attempting to follow the precedent of Penn State. The easiest way

to do this is to have students, not school officials, lead the way

in seeking out a service. Student demand for the service is rooted

in the very commercial desire to have cheap access to music that is

also legal, as opposed to an administration’s desire to coax

students into patronizing a legal form of downloading that is cheap

only to facilitate usage.

Associated Students of CSU is capable of rising to lead and

accomplish such a task, and the administration could then step back

and take an advisory role. In my opinion this structure would

accomplish a dual purpose of fortifying the student agenda and

legitimizing any negotiation between the university and a file

sharing company. The administration would also act as the final

executor of any agreement. According to ASCSU Vice President Katie

Clausen, who also chairs the Student Fee Review Board, student fee

changes are subject to final approval by a number of school

officials including the president and the board of governors.

The demand for a legal and thrifty alternative to online music

piracy is definitely present among both students and administrators

at Colorado State. CSU officials who are in a position to

officially comment could not be reached. I did, however reach a

number of officials in a number of departments who were unwilling

to comment about liabilities incurred on the university’s behalf by

the actions of students pirating music. If this subject is volatile

enough to make more than a few administrators abstain from making

any comment at all, this deafening silence bellows demand for a

remedy. If this demand is properly marketed to companies such as

Apple and Napster, CSU students could be gifted with a cheap and

legal source of online music. At the same time the university as an

institution would benefit from the notoriety gained through

innovation while limiting its liabilities.

Group access and rates to and for online file sharing services

might begin with educational institutions seeking to limit their

liabilities, but the idea will not linger in their exclusive

domain. This same type of group access could easily be adopted by

private corporations for exactly the same reasons universities are

interested in them. File sharing could easily become the biggest

technological breakthrough since the advent of the World Wide Web.

Some experts say it already is just that. With the right strategy

and a little luck, Colorado State could position itself on the

crest of this new wave.

 

Joe is a senior majoring in history. His column is available

every Thursday at no additional charge to students.

 

 

 

 

 

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