The Napster solution was first tried early this year in pilot programs at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Rochester. Napster is expected to announce agreements with five other colleges, along with the GWU agreement, next week.
While a service such as Napster remains prohibitively expensive for most colleges, some -- including Virginia Tech -- have recently announced that they will provide students with software for Apple's iTunes, which allows for the lawful downloading of online music. Under those arrangements, students would have to pay for each song they access.
Bill Mahon, a spokesman for Penn State, said the school was motivated more by concerns about ethics than about litigation. "Universities have a lot at stake with copyright law," he said. "We have faculty who are writing operas, who are creating film scripts, who are participating in a dozen different orchestras and choruses, who are publishing things in academic journals. . . . It's important for [students] to learn and understand they have a stake in it."
Mahon said Penn State officials were pleased with results of the pilot program, offered to about 14,000 residence hall students, and plan to expand it to about 83,000 students on and off-campus this fall.
But Julie Vastyan, a student government official who recently graduated, said the service received mixed reviews from students who were frustrated that they couldn't find songs they wanted in Napster's catalogue. Some also complained about the 99-cent charge for copying music onto CDs or portable music players. "Students found a way to get around it, but it's not exactly legal," Vastyan said.
Officials with Napster, now a division of Roxio Inc., in Los Angeles, did not respond to calls for comment.
GWU students just now hearing news of the Napster plan expressed curiosity -- and some doubts. Michelle Choi, a senior from Tustin, Calif., who serves as indie-rock director for the campus radio station, defended downloading as a way to promote more obscure artists -- which she said inspires more people to buy their CDs.
"How many of those [Napster] files are actually artists that aren't on a major record label?" she asked. "If they don't have something I want to listen to, I'm still going to go to Kazaa and download it.
"I could go to Napster and download Britney Spears, but I don't want to."