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The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is once again using lawsuits to ramp up its plan to foist music subscription services on universities - a move that could cost colleges millions, leading to higher tuition fees.

The music-label lobby group today dropped 477 new lawsuits into an already massive litigation pile. Of this group, 69 individuals were singled out by the RIAA, in a statement, for using university networks to trade music files via peer-to-peer services. The RIAA then went one step further and outed the offensive institutions, pointing to Brown University; Emory University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Gonzaga University; Mansfield University; Michigan State University; Princeton University; Sacred Heart University; Texas A & M University; Trinity College (Conn.); Trinity University (Tex.); University of Kansas; University of Minnesota; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

"It remains as important as ever that we continue to work with the university community in a way that is respectful of the law as well as university values," said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA.

In many ways, we just did the RIAA a favor by naming the schools, since that's exactly what the pigopolists are hoping for. The idea, more or less, is to finger these universities and push them toward picking up RIAA-friendly music subscription services. The only problem with the strategy, one that doesn't affect wealthy artists but rather hungry students, is that the schools may not be able to afford Napster and the like.

Last month, the RIAA used a similar tactic, when it sued 532 more people. The lobby group pointed out that 89 of the 532 individuals attended university. The RIAA could just have easily pointed out that X percent of those sued were males/females, children/adults, Virgos or churchgoers, but it took pains to put blinking lights around the students, so the press would pick up on the signal.

That's because the RIAA can point to schools such as Penn State and the University of Rochester that have agreed to run trials of Napster's music subscription service. These programs are part of what the RIAA calls its "effort to reach out to the university community on proactive solutions to the problem of illegal file sharing on college campuses." Penn State and Rochester are the proactive good guys who make non-Napsterized schools look like shady laggards.

(The heads of Penn State and Rochester happen to be close friends with the RIAA's Sherman.)

As part of the pilot agreements, students at Penn State and Rochester get free music at almost no cost at all to their schools.

The Napster service allows students to download as many songs as they like for free onto a network-connected PC, with the schools, in theory, fronting the $9.95 per month charge for this service. If the student actually wants to keep the song for after-university use, they can pay 99 cents per tune to download the track onto an MP3 player or to burn the track on a CD.

In reality, however, the schools have admitted they receive massive discounts for the Napster service - close to free. Still, the RIAA bills Penn State and Rochester as the "models" deviant institutions should follow.

The problem for the other schools is that, unlike RIAA chums Penn State and Rochester, they will have to pay and pay big for Napster. So the "model" is a bit flawed."

The actual "model" for the schools works out like this. If you have 10,000 students, the Napster cost would be close to $100,000 per month or more than $1m a year. For schools the size of Texas A & M University with tens of thousands of students, we're talking many millions of dollars.

The total one-year Napster cost for just the schools mentioned today by the RIAA would be close to $27m. The RIAA has yet to show a "model" where schools facing these fees describe how they funded the Napster service.

Singling out the universities makes an easy, high-payoff target for the RIAA. Going after the AARP (American Association of Retired People), for example, isn't likely to generate a steady future revenue stream. So, no need to put yellow starts on the seniors in a press release. It's much easier for the RIAA to make music subscription services a standard part of college IT costs. Only that has to be recouped from somewhere. You can guess where. ®

Music sales 101

University of Rochester opens online music store
Penn State President loves Microsoft, Napster, the RIAA and Al Gore (true)
There is magic behind Penn State's Napster deal
Penn State trustee and RIAA lawyer denies conflict of interests
Penn State's pigopolist pork is not smelling sweet
Penn State students revolt against Napster, DRM invasion

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Music biz appeals Canada file sharing-is-legal ruling
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Labels seek end to 99c music per song download

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