Last year this page called on the University to provide a service by which students could download music legally from the Internet. Specifically, we urged the administration to investigate the possibility of reaching an agreement with Napster similar to the one at Pennsylvania State University. Earlier this summer, the University did just that; providing free student subscriptions to the now legal music service. However, after evaluating the service nearly a month into its existence, the service is clearly inadequate in achieving its goals of reducing illegal downloads.
By all accounts, the Napster service is just plain bad. While students are able to listen to the music they have obtained from Napster on their computer, they are required to pay 99 cents if they wish to burn the song to a CD. While someone technically owns a song he or she pays for, students without a Napster compatible player are unable to put the songs on their iPods or other MP3 players. Also, if GW opts not to retain the service next year, students will lose all the music they had accumulated, but not paid for. Given these realities, Napster does not represent a competitive alternative to illegal file sharing.
The University has a stake in eliminating illegal file sharing on campus. First, having GW students cited in Recording Industry Association of America lawsuits is bad for public relations. More importantly for GW administrators, not taking active steps to curb illegal downloads could expose the University to liability lawsuits. Since Napster does not give students sufficient incentive to abandon KaZaa and LimeWire, the University should consider some potential alternatives.
One viable alternative would be to reach an agreement with Apple Computer Inc. and their iTunes music service. Apple offers bulk song licenses to buyers at reduced per-song prices. The University should consider using this service to either allot a certain number of free downloads to students or sell the licenses to students at the reduced prices.
Illegal file sharing represents a serious problem for college students and universities. While GW should be commended for taking steps to address the problem, it should look for an alternative to Napster next year.