September 14, 2000

Musicians Question Napster Use at Cornell

Print More

In a letter to President Hunter R. Rawlings III, the attorneys for recording artists Metallica and Dr. Dre requested that Cornell University ban access to Napster on its server.

The artists also requested from University officials that Cornell declare its stance regarding “file-sharing” of copyrighted MP3 music allegedly illegally copied and distributed through the Napster site. Cornell is also asked to provide instructions to users of the University server regarding Napster access by Sept. 22.

Cornell is among 20 universities nationwide, including Harvard, Duke and Yale, that received the request this week, according to Howard E. King, attorney for the artists.

“We believe that a university the caliber of Cornell, without the threat of legal action, will make the legal, ethical, and moral decision to stop the pirating of copyrighted materials on its campus,” King said.

Cornell’s current policy prohibits violation of copyrighted materials on the Internet, rules made explicit to freshmen when they first use Cornell servers, according to Cornell Information Technology (CIT) officials.

The University does not restrict access to specific websites.

“Cornell got the letter today and [we] are taking it under advisement, and will issue a response at the appropriate time,” said Linda Grace-Kobas, director of Cornell News Service, yesterday.

The Napster service, which enables users to trade and transfer MP3 files containing compressed songs, has been under fire over the past year. The United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction against Napster to shutdown the website on Aug. 1 after major record labels filed a suit against the Internet company in April.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has prevented enforcement of the injunction pending an appeal to be heard in October.

Last spring, Metallica and Dr. Dre filed lawsuits against Napster in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The University of Southern California, Yale University, and Indiana University, along with other universities to be named later, were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The universities all decided to restrict their students’ access to Napster shortly after the litigation was filed.

“Once a University knows that bandwidth and Internet access are being used to download copyrighted material, it becomes their responsibility to protect against the infringement,” King said.

Metallica claimed that the universities should be held liable for copyright infringement for their knowing facilitation of massive copyright infringements that occur through Napster, according to the letter to President Rawlings. King said that while there is no plan to take legal action against other universities at this time, he hopes that the universities will set the public standard for morality and ethics regarding this issue.

“I believe that you can easily recognize the irony of encouraging your students to matriculate in the creative arts, while engaging in a behavior which, if unchecked, will make it impossible for those students to earn an income from their future creative efforts,” King wrote in the letter.

In response to the original threat of a lawsuit, operators of Cornell Information Technology (CIT) sent an e-mail message to students last April. The e-mail stated that subscribers whose high network usage hindered other subscribers would be contacted.

The University already fully abides by the procedures set out by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, signed into law in November 1998 to address online copyright protection, Vice President of Information Technologies Polley McClure said.

“The University does not monitor what students and staff do on the Internet,” CIT Abuse Complaint Coordinator Eric Noble said. “[But] if we receive a complaint, we will act on it.”

The Act lays out a procedure by which copyright owners can complain to server providers, such as Cornell, of infringement and reviews how the provider must respond to the allegations.

Approximately 20 students were investigated in the past academic year for copyright violations. All of the complaints originated from companies the recording industry and Universal Studios. They stemmed from evidence of illegal distribution of copyrighted music and motion pictures in MP3 and other internet compatible format.

These students were referred to the Judicial Administrator and the illegal materials were removed from the websites.

“There are still legal uses on Napster,” Noble said. “Plenty of students on campus make their own MP3s and distribute them already, but we know that 90 percent of the use is not legal.”

Napster software is popular among college students, who have easy access to high speed Internet connections. MP3 sharing is available through multiple other websites and can occur through university networks.

“Distributing or selling copyrighted material without permission is against the law,” Noble said. “The recording industry is watching.”

Archived article by Eve Steele