Battle over Napster arrives on campus

As the battle over the Internet exchange of digital music rages in thebusiness and legal world, some universities have cracked down on such exchangeson their campuses, while others pointedly defend its use. In September, lawyers for artists Metallica and Dr. Dre asked 27 collegeadministrators to block access to Napster, software that allows computerusers to exchange music files with others online. Among the prominent schools rejecting the plea were the Georgia Instituteof Technology, Stanford, Princeton, Duke and the universities of Michigan,Wisconsin-Madison and California-Berkeley. New York University, Pepperdine University, Brown University and theUniversity of Chicago all complied with the request.

“We are an educational institution and we will err on the side of unfetteredaccess to information,” Georgia Tech spokesman Bob Harty told the AssociatedPress. Other students around the country have not enjoyed such an attitudefrom their administrators. At Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, graphics design freshmanScott Wickberg was charged in November with a misdemeanor count of unlawfuladvertisement and distribution of sound recordings. Wickberg operated afile-sharing Web site called “Lucky’s.” After receiving a tip from the Recording Industry Association of America,which has a full-time staff that surfs the Internet looking for copyrightlaw violators, OSU police obtained a search warrant and confiscated hiscomputer from his dorm room in September. Wickberg’s site allowed users to log on with a password and downloadany of his 10,167 MP3 music files. Wickberg appeared before the Payne County District Court on Nov. 22to answer for the charges. Under Oklahoma law, he could receive a maximumof a $5,000 fine. He could have been charged with felony sound recordingdistribution, punishable with a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison. District Attorney Charles Rogers would not directly address why hisoffice chose the lesser charge, but Doug Curry, a spokesman for RIAA saidtheir work “is not a matter of going after students; it’s about educatingstudents on copyright laws.” At Penn State University in State College, university officials sentout an e-mail in September warning students and faculty of the university’sban against copying copyrighted material. The message also said officialsmonitor the school’s network to identify heavy bandwidth users, which couldindicate heavy Napster use. The university’s policy is not new, but thewarning has apparently confused some Penn State students who said theyhave trouble identifying which files are copyrighted and which are not. The policy does not require Penn State network users to delete theNapster program. Since the warning, the university has identified about100 heavy bandwidth users, but no formal criminal or disciplinary chargeshave been filed. In New York, officials at Syracuse University are waiting until thefinal resolution of Napster’s legal wrangling before issuing any sort ofban on its campus use. Syracuse was not one of the 27 schools formallypetitioned to ban Napster use. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Middle Tennessee State University officialshanded down a Napster ban last spring but stressed that it is not a resultof the legal battles surrounding the program. Instead, the university isfiltering Napster and other music-sharing software such as iMesh and Gnutellabecause of a bandwidth shortage on its computing system. After the banwas implemented, officials said they saw a noticeable decrease in the amountof bandwidth being consumed.