January 31, 2005

Napster Pilot Run Hits Halfway Point

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As Cornell’s Napster pilot program has reached its halfway mark this semester, the Student Assembly is evaluating the service for future use.

Since last September, students have had free access to the Napster service. Paid for mostly by corporate sponsors and an unrestricted gift fund from the Student and Academic Services, the program allows students to download and stream tracks from Napster’s music library.

As of Dec. 13, 8,955 undergraduate and graduate students — 60 percent of eligible students — had registered for the program, according to Cornell Information Technology. Approximately 13 new students register each day and over 5.9 million tracks have been streamed, played and stored in total.

Napster offers over 750,000 full-length tracks, commercial-free web-based radio stations, Billboard chart information and an online magazine, all of which users can access on Windows 2000 or XP. Computers which run other operating systems, such as Macs, cannot access the program unless they are running Virtual PC or other emulation software.

While students can download an unlimited number of songs on up to three computers, the music files will “expire” when users stop subscribing to the service. To permanently keep a track, users must pay 99 cents per song. In addition, although Napster is compatible with most brands of portable digital music players, subscribers cannot store their tracks on the popular iPod.

To address students’ concerns about the Napster program, the S.A. has formed the Legal Music Downloading Committee. Headed by Tim Lim ’06, the committee is also looking into other music service providers, such as iTunes, Ruckus and Cdigix.

“We just sent out a request to other companies and are getting back offers,” Lim said. “We will definitely come up with a solution. This is a very important decision for Cornell because other colleges are looking to follow in our lead. Whether we keep Napster or not, the ramifications are huge.”

S.A. representative Joseph Rudnick ’08 is also planning several forums on campus entitled “Freedom with Responsibility” later this semester for entertainment industry experts to discuss the issues surrounding digital copyright and legal music downloading. Later forums will invite music service providers to demonstrate their programs for students.

“We will bring all of the sides together to discuss the issues, which will educate and empower people,” Rudnick said. “We don’t want to make a decision without student input and want to make choices that will best serve the needs of people. We want the feedback of students and to reach out to people who don’t use Napster.”

According to dean of students Kent Hubbell, who has worked with the S.A. on the Legal Music Downloading Committee, Napster has called Cornell’s program the most successful pilot they have in place.

Hubbell said that while it is unclear if the Napster service has decreased illegal downloading at Cornell, he does not believe this concern to be the sole purpose of the program.

“We did this because we believe it enriches the lives of students,” he said. “If you can access thousands of songs of all different kinds it enriches your musical experience.”

Hubbell also stressed the significance of establishing a dialogue between musicians and their audience.

“The most important thing to come from this is a thoughtful discussion about how we work with this new relationship between artists and their audience as a result of new technology,” he said. “Everybody is working on how it will be perfected.”

While S.A. president Erica Kagan ’05 does not know for certain if the existence of the Napster program has deterred students from illegally downloading music, she believes that the service has still achieved its purpose.

“We have done what the S.A. wanted and raised awareness about these issues,” she said. “Our hope was that people would test out the program, have a dialogue about it whether they love or hate Napster, and become more interested in it as a whole than before.”

“Students are used to simply stealing music, but this is showing people there are alternatives. The University is at least committed to providing a substitution…most institutions just turn their back on the problem. It is not our job to tell people what to do, but to show them what their options are,” Rudnick said.

While there is no real timeline for when the Committee needs to achieve consensus about the future of the Napster program, it will reach a concrete decision by the end of the semester. Kagan said the S.A. will likely pass a recommendation which she expects next year’s representatives to honor.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer