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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Napster expelled by universities
The Napster website
Napster use is clogging university networks
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

For students at US universities, college means not only higher education but also higher speed connections to the internet, and many students are using these fast connections to download music using computer programmes like Napster.

Napster allows users to search for music stored on other Napster users' computers and then to download a digital copy on to their own computers through the net.

The sound of music files - compressed in the MP3 format - is not CD quality, but good enough for most music fans.

Some universities have blocked their students' access to the service to avoid legal hassles due to Napster's battle in court with the music industry and to lessen the load on their computer networks.

A recent survey of 50 universities found that a third had banned their students from using the Napster service.

Napster is fighting a lawsuit by the Recording Industry Association of America, and the heavy metal band Metallica named three universities in a separate lawsuit against Napster earlier this year.

Network overload

But legal threats are just one reason that universities are restricting access to the service, says Roger Schechter, a professor of copyright and trademark law at George Washington University.

George Washington University law professor Roger Schechter
Roger Schechter's students say Napster is cutting into record sales
"What (universities) are discovering is that their systems are being overloaded by students who sit in the dormitories all night and download music, and that academic projects can't get accomplished," he said.

The recording industry and some artists fear that downloaded music is cutting into their profits, and Professor Schechter said his students believed that Napster was cutting deeply into the sales of record stores near universities.

"There are these so-called cancer clusters of stores across the street from the dormitory where sales are down by 20 or 30 or 40%, and that's exactly what one would expect," he said.

"If students can download music for free in their dorm room, why would they cross the street and spend $14.95 to buy a CD."

Education not litigation

But unlike its high profile battle with Napster, the Recording Industry Association of America is not taking universities to court but rather trying to educate their students about music piracy, according to the association's vice president in charge of its anti-piracy campaign, Frank Creighton.

"We launched an educational campaign because we saw that about 70% of the infringing sites we were coming across emanated from university networks," Mr Creighton said.

George Washington University campus
University students are racing to download music as Napster faces a lawsuit
"We think it has been somewhat beneficial in that over the last few years the percentage of sites we are been finding at universities has drastically decreased."

But the band Metallica believes that education is not enough and is taking a much more direct approach.

The band's lawyers recently sent letters to about a dozen prominent universities, asking them to restrict their students access to the Napster service.

But at least four of the universities - Duke University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - rejected the request.

Download frenzy

Lawyers at Duke said that Napster also had legitimate educational uses and that "we are not aware of any legal authority that would require the university to ban access to Napster."

But drummer Lars Ulrich made it clear in testimony before the US Senate how the band felt about Napster.

"With Napster, every song by every artist is available for download at no cost, and, of course, with no payment to the artist, the song writer or the copyright holder.

The seal of the Recording Industry Association of America
The RIAA will meet Napster in court again in October
"If you're not fortunate enough to own a computer, there is only one way to assemble a music collection the equivalent of a Napster user: Theft," Mr Ulrich said.

With Napster back in court next month, Professor Schechter said his students had a more pressing concern.

"They want me to predict how the case is going to come out. Mostly, I think, so that they can gauge the rate at which they should download music between now and the end of the lawsuit," he said.

Even if Napster loses this case, many students have become used to easy access to free music. For the music industry, they will have to find a way to stem this digital deluge and make profits in the internet age.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | Business
Napster ban for students
19 Sep 00 | Business
Digital rights and wrongs
19 Aug 00 | Business
Napster says judge 'wrong'
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