September 25, 2000

Cornell Will Allow Napster

Print More

Despite a request from the lawyers of Metallica and Dr. Dre, Cornell decided not to restrict student access to Napster and other file sharing websites on the university server.

In a letter released on Friday, Associate University Council Patricia A. McClary wrote that, while Cornell respects copyright laws, it will not ban access to Napster.

“While we acknowledge the potential for misuses of this technology,” McClary wrote, “We believe that it would be inappropriate to foreclose access by the entire University community to a large body of electronic material based on the potential for irresponsible conduct by some.”

Two weeks ago, lawyer Howard King wrote letters to 20 universities, including one to President Hunter R. Rawlings III, requesting that they ban Napster access on their servers. Since then, several universities, including Penn State, have decided to restrict Napster access.

Princeton, Harvard and Stanford, however, decided to maintain free access to all websites on their servers.

“We do not, and cannot, monitor the content of all traffic on our network and have no legal obligation to do so,” McClary wrote.

Metallica and Dr. Dre tried to connect Napster and copyright infringement to university responsibility by naming three universities as defendants in a lawsuit that they filed against Napster last April.

“It is no secret as to what Napster is used for,” King said. “Your school and others have huge portions of the university bandwidth being used to download copyrighted material.”

Metallica claimed that the University of Southern California, Yale University and Indiana University, along with other universities yet to be named, should be held liable for copyright infringement for their knowing facilitation of massive infringements occurring through Napster.

Shortly after the suit was filed, all three universities restricted access to Napster on their servers, in a move that has been duplicated in other schools, despite student protest.

“Cornell is defending students’ rights to the legal use of Napster and leaving the responsibility of deciding which uses are legal and which ones are not to the individual,” said Polley McClure, vice president of information technologies.

Though Cornell chooses not to ban access via its server, McClure did sent out an e-mail to students clarifying university policy on file sharing applications and copyright issues.

Cornell’s policy for internet use is based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, laying down procedures for dealing with complaints of infringement.

“We have always attended to complaints in a very aggressive way,” McClure said, “And we will continue to do so.”

Cornell students may continue to download MP3s and other copyrighted material using Napster and other file-sharing software on campus, but at their on risk.

If the copyright owners, a law enforcement agency, or other body finds that a Cornell student may have been using copyrighted materials, the student may face University mandated penalties. Some cases of violations of University policy could result in the suspension of a student’s Net ID, Resnet or EZ-Remote subscription. Additionally, students that download copyrighted material could be liable for damages up to $30,000 per infringement under the Copyright law, according to McClure.

Students and other MP3 downloaders must wait until the October ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to get the final word on the legality of Napster.

The appeal prevented enforcement of a preliminary injunction against Napster by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California several months after major recording labels filed suit against the file-sharing company.

Depending on the outcome of the October hearing, Napster may be shut down.

“I hope that attention to this will cause students to think about which files are allowed to be downloaded, and which are not. Hopefully they will not download [them],” McClure said.

Archived article by Eve Steele