Universities, caught in the crossfire between litigation-crazy record companies and music-swapping students, are seeking to appease both by rolling out a bevy of new, legal file-sharing services.
Blake Premer, 19, isn't buying it. The American University student turned up his nose Tuesday when he stopped by a campus booth to look over a demonstration of a new digital music service AU began offering students for free last month.
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Premer sniffed that the service from a Herndon company called Ruckus Network Inc. doesn't allow songs to be transferred to iPods, Apple Computer Inc.'s popular portable music player. "Everyone has iPods here," he said, "so what is the incentive to use it?"
But fellow student Bernadette Gailliard, 20, was intrigued by the idea of listening to hundreds of thousands of songs on her computer in her dorm. Consumers would have to pay $10 a month to get something similar from commercial rivals. "I like the idea you can't get arrested or subpoenaed for using this service -- and it is free," Gailliard said.
This week, the University of Maryland at College Park also joined the get-legal-music movement, rolling out a 90-day free trial of a service called Cdigix to a little more than half its roughly 30,000 students.
The two schools are among the three dozen or so U.S. universities offering free or deeply discounted music services to wean the next generation of music fans away from free song-swapping Internet services such as Kazaa.
Record labels have partnered with new music middlemen to license their songs at rates much lower than those available through existing commercial services. Some consumer services, including Napster and Apple's iTunes, also are targeting colleges.
"We act as a carrot to get schools and students to do the right thing," said Brett Goldberg, president of Cdigix.
Cdigix, based in Englewood, Colo., has signed deals to offer its legal download service to students at 21 schools, including Loyola and Goucher colleges in Baltimore. Ruckus has similar agreements with eight schools, including a one-semester trial at AU. Both are targeting educational institutions and offer content besides music.
Ruckus chief executive William J. Raduchel, a former chief technology officer at what was once AOL Time Warner Inc., said the business model likely will wind up resembling that of cable TV, with Ruckus, Cdigix and others selling basic and premium packages of digital content, including movies and educational fare.