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Penn State students revolt against Napster, DRM invasion

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A small faction of anti-pigopolist soldiers have launched an attack against Penn State University's new campus-wide music deal with Napster.

Seniors Joe Jarzab and Chad Lindell have peppered the Penn State campus with flyers, urging students to boycott buying music and to block the music labels' domination of music royalties. The students mobilized after Penn State earlier this week announced a deal with Napster to provide free music downloads to collegians as part of a DRM-laced program. The university is paying the Napster service fee out of its annual IT budget - a fund to which students must contribute $160 per semester.

"What we have been trying to do is get the students aware of what is going on here," Jarzab said. "A lot of people are questioning why we don't get to keep the music, and they want this stopped."

At the heart of the Penn State/Napster service is something the organizations are calling a "tethered download." As romantic as that sounds, it's not all that convenient. Students can download - or stream - all the songs they like for free but can only use or play the tunes while at Penn State. After their four tuition-paying years are up, their tethered downloads disappear.

Student can opt to pay 99 cents to burn the songs on a CD, but even then there is another catch. Napster is a Windows-only service, so all the Mac fans out there receive squat for their $160 contribution to the IT fund.

"That is a concern," said Tysen Kendig, a university spokesman.

Kendig, however, assured us that Napster has some Mac software in beta that would allow songs to be played on Apple computers. Interesting.

Jarzab charges that university money could be better spent on upgrading computers or other IT services instead of funneling large stockpiles of cash back to the record industry.

"They are throwing the labels what is left of our IT fee and then once you leave Penn State, you won't even be authenticated as a user," he said. "They are deciding for us what service we want, and we are paying their bills."

Jarzab has littered the Penn State campus with flyers, trying to alert students about where their RIAA payments end up, pointing out that artists receive the teeniest fractions of the fees. Penn State workers have dutifully removed the posters each night.

Penn State sees this service as a way to temper illegal music downloads. It has tried in the past to stop students from sharing copyrighted files but "that hasn't worked," Kendig said.

So how did it come up with this bright idea?

Well, it turns out that Penn State President Graham Spanier is serving as co-chair of the Committee on Higher Education and the Entertainment Industry, along with Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Yeah, we get the higher education gag too.

Somewhere along the line Sherman managed to convince this university official that selling students DRM-infected songs was a good idea. The two gurus believe Penn State could be the first in a long line of universities rolling out similar services.

Hoping to assuage some fears, Penn State urges that this is just a pilot program and that some changes may be made. It will roll out the beta this Spring and hopes to have a full service up and running by next Fall. ®

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