In a bid to avoid costly copyright litigation, 34 percent of colleges around the U.S. have banned their students from using Napster, according to a survey released Tuesday by Internet research firm Gartner Group.
According to the report, “Colleges and Universities Prepare for Napster’s Sophomore Year,” some university administrators are taking the threat of copyright litigation seriously and have decided to ban Napster, while others are still mulling over the issues.
“I would not want to be the university president who neglected to update the school policy regarding music downloads this year,” added Gartner analyst Robert Labatt. “Long legal battles can be costly, and one school could easily be singled out to set legal precedent this year.”
Joining the Ban
Among the universities that decided to ban Napster are: Kent State, Rice, Seton Hall and Villanova. Napster will play on at two-thirds of the schools surveyed, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Stanford.
For the survey, Gartner polled 50 public and private institutions of higher education in the United States.
The Redwood City, California-based Napster and the recording industry have been in a fierce battle over the legality of Napster’s music-swapping service. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster in December, alleging that its service unlawfully promotes copyright infringement.
The trial court issued a preliminary injunction shutting down Napster in July, but the shutdown order was put on hold by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, pending a full hearing.
In addition to the RIAA suit, heavy metal band Metallica sued Napster and three universities — Yale, the University of Southern California and Indiana University — charging that Napster and the schools were encouraging piracy. After the schools acted to limit access to Napster, Metallica dropped the suits against the schools.
Facing the Music
According to Gartner, colleges still considering whether to ban Napster need to move quickly to develop policies that address the relevant copyright, censorship, network capacity and moral issues.
“This is a real-world class lesson on campuses nationwide,” said Gartner analyst P.J. McNealy. “This is where the school policies must address the student or consumer behavior, and national copyright and censorship laws will help shape the outcome for the music industry.”
McNealy added, “Schools must consider the implementation of ethical standards and policy guidelines, even written agreements, that explicitly state that copyright infringement is illegal and will not be tolerated.”
Friends of Napster
Although Napster does not have a lot of friends in the music industry, the music sharing service has won support in the computer industry. On Monday, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) — which represents such technology giants as Sun Microsystems, Yahoo! and Intuit — filed a brief in support of Napster with the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In the brief, which was filed jointly with several other industry associations, the CCIA argued that the lower court misconstrued certain provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act when it issued the shutdown order.
The brief stated that “The district court’s erroneous construction could threaten core Internet technologies, such as hyperlinking and online directories, as well as beneficial emerging technologies such as peer-to-peer file sharing.”
Napster is safe until at least October 2nd, when the appellate court will consider in detail whether the shutdown order should go into effect pending a trial in the RIAA case.
Supporting File Swapping
Even as schools are moving to ban Napster from their campuses, some are embracing another file-sharing product called I-drive.com. A consortium of about 40 schools — including Stanford, Case Western Reserve University and Wake Forest — have partnered with I-drive.com to offer co-branded, ad-free file storage and file-sharing features.
Notably, the University of Notre Dame, which has banned Napster, is offering its students access to I-drive.com.
Although not set up as a music-swapping service, I-drive.com allows students to swap a variety of files, including digital music files. However, I-drive.com has promised to terminate the accounts of anyone caught violating copyright laws. The San Francisco-based company has also placed restrictions on the number of files that users can swap at one time.
I-drive has partnership agreements with digital entertainment companies MP3.com and Scour, both of which have had their own headaches with digital music copyright suits.