ITHACA, N.Y. -- This fall, Cornell University will conduct a one-year experiment in legal downloading of music. A campuswide site license for the Napster online music service will provide students with streaming and downloading access to the company's library of more than 750,000 songs. The service also will give students access to interactive, commercial-free radio stations, six decades of Billboard 's chart information and an online magazine. In addition, there will be programs to support legal music downloading through computer platforms that are not compatible with the Napster service.
During the pilot program, the Napster service will be free to students. All but $25,000 of the cost of the pilot is coming from corporate sponsors. The balance will be paid from an unrestricted gifts fund in Cornell's Division of Student and Academic Services. In the fall of 2005, the Cornell Student Assembly will decide if the program should be continued, with the cost added to student activity fees.
"If the students want this to continue after the trial, they will evaluate all of the vendors available and recommend a chosen service," said Polley Ann McClure, Cornell vice president for information technologies.
If the university continues with Napster, the cost should be about $20 a year per student, according to Kent Hubbell, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students at Cornell. The normal subscription cost of the Napster service is $10 a month. Napster currently sells this service to two universities, and five others besides Cornell will introduce it in the fall.
"This is an effort to try to explore constructive alternatives," Hubbell said. "It's kind of a commercial and technological experiment to come up with a method by which this generation of young people can legally obtain music and learn about the appropriate use of protected intellectual property. After all, students may well need these tools to protect their own creative work."
The decision to try Napster's campus service was made in May by unanimous vote of the Student Assembly after its 23 members tested the service for three months."Napster simply outperformed our expectations," said Nick Linder '05, who was president of the Student Assembly when the decision was made and will act as liaison between the assembly, Napster and Cornell's administration during the coming year. "In our role representing the student body, we needed to find a universitywide solution to online piracy and dispel the common fear of looming lawsuits. Napster offers a unique blend of a name students recognize, a broad music library that appeals to every taste and community features that let you discover new music and share your favorites with friends."
The fact that the service provides a legal alternative was an important factor in the decision, Linder noted. "Students are much more apprehensive about using a pirate music service than they were a year or two years ago, because there have been lawsuits," he said. Music copyright infringement lawsuits have been filed against students and others across the country. The Cornell University counsel's office said it knows of no such lawsuits filed against Cornell students.
Since the Student Assembly sets its budget and determines the amount of student activity fees only once every two years, availability of a service financed by those fees during the 2005-06 academic year is "still something that has to be worked out," Linder said.
In developing the proposal to bring Napster to the campus, Cornell worked closely with the Campus Action Network, an initiative led by Sony Music Entertainment and other record companies dedicated to facilitating the introduction of legitimate digital music services to campuses.
Penn State University and the University of Rochester already have put the Napster service in place, and George Washington University, Middlebury College, the University of Miami, the University of Southern California and Wright State University will introduce it in the fall, each campus with a customized program. Other universities are experimenting with competing services.
At Cornell this year, Napster will be available to all undergraduate and graduate students, both on and off campus. Each user will be able to download as many tracks as desired on up to three computers. Napster is available only on computers running the Microsoft Windows XP and 2000 operating systems, and uses Microsoft's digital rights management system, which causes the music files to "expire" when the user ceases to subscribe to the service. To retain a track permanently or burn it on a CD the user must pay 99 cents per track. The service also is compatible with about 60 brands of portable digital players using the Microsoft system. The university is exploring other alternatives for Macintosh and Linux users, McClure said.
An added benefit to Cornell will be a reduction in off-campus Internet traffic. The service will use a cache server located on the campus network that will store most commonly downloaded tracks. Cornell, like other universities, pays an external service provider for the amount of traffic that moves between the campus and the wider Internet. At Penn State, Napster said, students have been averaging about 100,000 streams or downloads a day, but only about 8 percent have been off-campus traffic, with the rest handled by the cache server. The cache server hardware will be purchased by Cornell Information Technologies, but its cost eventually will be absorbed into the cost of service paid by the students.