More Crummy Reporting on Penn State’s Music Service

Reuters reports: “Song-swap pioneer-turned online music store Napster is expected to announce a deal with Penn State University to offer its newly relaunched music service for free to tens of thousands of students, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday.” (emphasis added)

Yes, Roxio and the RIAA are providing this service all out of the goodness of their hearts. And Penn State will not be charging their students directly or indirectly for the service.  As I’ve said before, this is one heck of a spin machine.

Whatever contractual or technological restrictions that Napster decides to impose on to its typical users are likely passed on to these students. If they want to buy songs from a service with better contractual or DRM terms, they get double charged.  For instance, a student who owns an iPod will have little reason to use his “free” Napster account.

Isn’t it interesting that Roxio’s getting this exclusive deal, rather than the University building its own system and using a license from the RIAA?  It adds a whole other dimension of clumsiness to this – as if it weren’t bad enough that the students are being forced into paying for the RIAA’s music regardless of their listening habits, they now have to fund Roxio specifically, too.

Is this the way to a more competitive market in online music stores? To have the colleges choose ahead of time for all student consumers?

Did I mention that this is a state university subsidizing Roxio and its selection of artists only, not musicians in general?

Update: Frank’s got links to other stories on the matter.

4 Responses to “More Crummy Reporting on Penn State’s Music Service”

  1. Adam
    November 6th, 2003 | 5:08 pm

    Two comments:
    1. I think this might be a step in the right direction, despite the pitfalls of the current DRM limitations on use. Consider the precedent set – ‘blanket’ usage; once the standard, pay-per-song will cease to be the dominant economic model.

    We are in a way one step closer to the celestial jukebox.

    2. There are still hurdles. Comments like:
    “A few echoes of the old anarchic Napster reverberated here and there. One poster explained how to record streams from the service and save them as MP3s without any copy protection. Downloads through the service are wrapped in Microsoft’s digital rights management software, which limits how many times they can be copied to other computers and what kinds of mobile music players can read them.

    But other listeners immediately criticized the free-music lover, asking why anyone would pay to pirate.”

    Obviously there is confusion over what rights an individual acquires AFTER purchasing the music. I think it will eventually pan out and subscribers will be endowed with the right to convert the purchased music into any format they find convenient*.

    *As long as we continue to fight for these rights

    Overall I like the prospect of the legitimation of online music usage with
    (a) Reasonable Price
    (b) Unlimited Songs

  2. Anonymous
    November 7th, 2003 | 9:09 am


    I think you’re missing my main point. My point is: why are the colleges forcing this on the students? Moreover, why is it the college’s role to do this? It’s one thing when they give “free” newspaper and magazine access, because there’s a nexus between that and academic research. That’s not the case with PSU/Napster. This does not forward the university’s mission. Moreover, by calling it a free service, they are actively deceiving students and the public. Why are the colleges spinning this, like, say, a for-profit entertainment company?

  3. Adam
    November 7th, 2003 | 5:45 pm


    I think the why can be broken into two separate rationale:

    1. They want their students to comply with copyright law. It’s the reason Swat et al shutdown Diebold sites and it’s the thinking behind PSU’s decision to some degree as well. Is it the correct path? Maybe not ideally, but it’s a pragmatic compliance solution.

    2. PSU’s mission includes promotion of “human and economic development through the expansion of knowledge and its applications in the natural and applied sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, and the professions.”

    How is inclusion of music via Napster different than the provision of music via PSU’s Digital Music Library? Fields of study that could be positively affected are :acoustics, communications and New Media on the Web, at first blush.

    It’s at least as worthy as cable TV.

    Additionally, calling it ‘free’, while untrue, is no more an affront than calling newspapers, library usage, or intramural sports programs ‘free’, and no more of an afront.

    On supporting ‘For-Profits’, I defy you to find a single university that doesn’t support them in one way or another. Whether it’s inclusion of cable or mandatory meal plans (served by Marriot), or outsourced facilities maintenance you’re gonna find privitization paid for in part by public funds.

    If the question is “why Napster” over some BMG/Sony program, I reply “what’s that difference?”

  4. Sam
    November 8th, 2003 | 11:55 am

    Adam is right on here.

    I was at the Anaheim discussion where Spanier announced this deal (Valenti, Cary Sherman, Phelps from U of Rochester also). How does this deal extend the mission of Penn State was asked. Phelps asked how do NCAA athletics extend the academic mission? How does the campus radio station extend the mission? He added that students often list music as a primary part of their life. The possibility of legal action against universities or congressional legislation is the catalyst for finding legal ways of providing students music.

    Subsidizing Roxio?! With the same logic: why should students be forced to subisidize Symantec and their anti-virus products with a campus-wide license? Why should the subsidize Microsoft with a campus-wide Office license?