By Amy Argetsinger Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 17, 2004; Page A01
George Washington University this fall will become one of a small number of colleges to attempt a novel solution to the problem of students illegally downloading music from the Internet:
It's going to give them the music, legally, for free.
Through a deal worked out with the online music library Napster, students living in campus residence halls will be able to access hundreds of thousands of songs over the university's high-speed network, effectively allowing them to use their personal computers as digital jukeboxes.
University officials would not say how much it will cost to provide Napster subscriptions to all 7,100 on-campus students, but they said the program's first trial year will be underwritten by a gift from a donor who wished to remain anonymous. Napster, once the enemy of the recording industry because it began as a rogue network of music lovers trading copyrighted songs for free, now boasts an authorized library of more than 700,000 tracks, each available with a few clicks of a keyboard and marketed to individual consumers for $9.95 a month.
The free tunes could represent an apex of dorm-room luxury when many college students have come to expect living quarters outfitted with cable TV, private bathrooms and 24-hour fitness centers, among other amenities.
But GWU officials are turning to the Napster service less as a means of wooing prospective students than as a way to tackle the technological and ethical crises posed by the downloading revolution. Linda J. Schutjer, the university's associate general counsel, said today's students have become accustomed to taking music off the Internet -- much of it unauthorized, using such computer file-sharing services as Morpheus or Kazaa -- and come to campus expecting that music should always come fast and free.
Napster -- a revamped version of the service that launched the file-sharing craze before being shut down by the courts in 2001 -- will provide a legal alternative, she said. "It goes hand in hand with the effort to show students what they should and should not do."
GWU students cheered the news of the Napster plan but expressed some skepticism. Although the subscriptions will allow them to listen to as much music as they want for free through their computers, they will have to pay 99 cents for any song they copy onto a compact disc or portable music player.
"For me, it seems like this would suit my needs," said Sara Marley, 21, a senior from Middlebury, Vt., who admitted to occasionally downloading illicit dance music or country songs to listen to in her room. "But I don't think it's going to stop people from downloading music [illegally]."
With their young, tech-savvy populations and easy access to high-speed computer networks, U.S. college campuses have ended up on the frontlines of the downloading battles. Several local campuses -- including GWU -- were among those subpoenaed by the recording industry for information about students identified as illegally downloading music.