psu/napster pho letter

Dear pho,

As a college student, I feel a certain responsibility to ask some critical questions about the PSU/Napster deal.  I am not nearly as keen on it as some of you seem to be.

How does this service advance the university’s mission?  It is one thing when universities pool student fees to pay for newspaper, Lexis-Nexis, Westlaw, et al access.  There is a clear nexus between those services and academic work. That is not the case with PSU/Napster.

Perhaps I am overly idealistic, but the university is supposed to be focused on providing a special, unique haven for scholarship and debate.  The university is certainly not a music store, nor should its use of resources be dictated by the music industry’s needs – they should not be essentially backed into throwing money at this problem.  Inasmuch as this solution, as FVL discusses in his recent email (copied below), does not address any of the underlying problems involved, this is especially troubling for me.

It’s worth repeating that the money for this service either a) is the result of higher tuitions or b) requires taking money away from other school services.  No matter what they’d like you to believe about the service being “free”, the money is coming from somewhere and could be put to far more academic purposes. (Given this is a state university, it could be coming from tax revenue.)

Indeed, isn’t it disturbing that the university is participating in this spin machine, calling the service “free”?  I have dissected some PSU statements here (  PSU seems to be acting like, well, a for-profit music company, trying to market music to its students, playing down the actual cost all the way.

And why should students be forced to pay for this particular service?  Students are locked into one set of DRM and contractual restrictions.  Should they want to get the same songs from a different service, they are effectively double charged.  Moreover, students who  don’t buy RIAA music (and whatever else is in the Napster catalog) are paying student fees for nothing.  Certainly, there are advantages to pooling the students’ resources to, presumably, receive a lower subscription fee.  At the same time, given how distant this is from the university’s mission, don’t these problems seem more severe?

With the above in mind, is this really the way towards a competitive music market, with the university picking this one service for consumers?  I’m not so sure.  It seems like it will likely distort the market in some ways.

To me, this is an “ugly solution” to one problem that’s likely to be an even uglier cause of many more. Yeah, it would fix a lot of things short term. But, long term, is this really where we want universities involved? If the cost of setting up one of these systems is really equal to colleges’ responding to DMCA requests, then I think we have bigger fish to fry – we ought to deal with the broader problems directly.


Derek Slater

At 02:09 PM 11/6/2003 -0800, Fred von Lohmann wrote:

On 11/6/03 11:52 AM,  wrote:

> very intersting to me that it took bean counting potential liability costs

> for schools to highlight THE viable business model for the ip music

> distribution biz to go after. When I was devolping software we received

> plenty of site license payments from schools because our software kept

> ending up on their machines beyond their control.

Not sure what you mean here. This deal will not relieve Penn State of any

liability — P2P usage will continue, and Penn State will be just as liable

(or not liable) as they were before.

Let’s check back in May and see whether this actually reduces P2P, leads the

RIAA to stop pressuring Penn State, or relieves the burden on Penn State’s

IT department to hunt down file sharing on their network.

And most important, let’s see if it suddenly revives retail CD sales in the

Penn State vicinity.

This is no answer, any more than offering students subsidized go-carts will

stop speeding on campus roads.


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