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Schools split on whether to block students' Napster access

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA — As Napster's battle for survival resumes today in a federal court, colleges and universities nationwide are issuing verdicts of their own on whether students will have access to the Internet music-swapping service.

On many campuses, Napster has already won.

"We are an educational institution and we will err on the side of unfettered access to information," said Bob Harty, a spokesman for the Georgia Institute of Technology, which last week denied a lawyer's request on behalf of two music acts to block access to Napster.

"Once you start down that road ... well, we could tie up an awful lot of staff people and resources trying to evaluate Web sites' content, and we don't want to get into that," he said.

Other schools — among them the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan, Stanford, Princeton and Duke — responded in like manner to the request from Howard King, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents Metallica and Dr. Dre.

"I think the overwhelming majority of universities are reacting the same way we have. Most are not blocking Napster," said Mike Smith, assistant chancellor for legal affairs at the University of California, Berkeley.

UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward said limiting Internet access based on content "runs counter to our fundamental and cherished concepts of academic freedom and free speech, which are the linchpins of our mission to teach, research and disseminate information."

Metallica, Dr. Dre and the Recording Industry Association of America have sued Napster, claiming its file-sharing software allows people to steal music. Three universities — Yale, Indiana and Southern California — also were sued, but the suits were dropped after they agreed to block access to Napster.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction against Napster in July, ruling that Napster encouraged widespread copyright infringement.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed her order hours before it was to take effect. Today that court is to hear arguments on whether to continue the stay pending a trial — thus allowing Napster to live on.

Napster contends that the millions of Americans who use its service — the San Mateo, Calif., company says 28 million people have downloaded the software — are violating no law. It bases its defense on the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which it says grants immunity when music is shared for noncommercial use.

Higher education is involved because students have been among Napster's most ardent patrons and defenders.

Georgia Tech students say they're pleased with their school's decision.

"Why should Georgia Tech be a filter?" asked Darren, an aerospace engineering major from New York City, who wouldn't give his surname for fear he would be named in a copyright-infringement complaint.

Two of the nation's largest universities — Texas and Ohio State — block Napster access but only because they are concerned about their campus-wide networks getting clogged with swapped music.

"Twenty percent of the total university bandwidth was going toward something that we were pretty sure was Napster use," said Tom Edgar, associate vice president for academic computing at Texas. But he acknowledges that numerous Napster-like services can supply the same files, so blocking Napster won't stop online music-swapping.

At some universities, officials are taking enforcement one step further.

Oklahoma State campus police confiscated a student's computer last month over allegations by the RIAA that it was used to distribute copyrighted material. Penn State officials are questioning students and faculty whose computers show heavy file-transfer traffic.

Other schools have blocked Napster on the grounds that it is a tool for breaking the law. Among them is Northeastern University in Boston, where former student Shawn Fanning wrote Napster's technical underpinnings in his dorm room two years ago.

Canisius College, a private liberal arts college in Buffalo, N.Y., has blocked Napster on ethical grounds.

"It's not free for you to steal books from the public library, and it's not free to download music you haven't paid for," said Jerry Neuner, Canisius' associate vice president for academic affairs and president of the American Association of University Administrators.


Napster shutdown not a free-speech issue, experts say

Company says eliminating song-sharing service would violate First Amendment, but free-speech experts say copyright infringement not protected under Constitution. 07.27.00

Penn State hosts First Amendment Festival Oct. 2-3
Free concert kicks off celebration of free expression; issues to be discussed include Napster, DeCss/DVD, campus press, student religious expression, more. 09.28.00

College causes stir by knocking music-swappers offline
University of Florida officials say they're simply enforcing the law, but civil libertarians say school has become enforcer for recording industry. 11.29.03

RIAA targets college students in music-piracy crackdown
'Obviously I knew it was illegal, but no one got in trouble for it,' says University of Nebraska sophomore who settled her case for $3,000. 05.16.07

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