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
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.
"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
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
"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
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.