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Duke University has returned a bit of dignity to the college music downloading scene by purchasing 1,650 iPod music players for its students.

Duke nobly plans to use the expensive Apple gear in the pursuit of academic excellence. Students will tap into the iPod's beefy hard drive to store course information, language lessons, recorded lectures, the academic calendar and even the freshman orientation schedule. Oh, yeah, and they can file away a few thousand songs too.

With the iPod deal, Duke has, at least temporarily, separated itself from less innovation curious institutions such as Penn State, University of Rochester and USC - all of which are Napster customers. Where Duke awards its students free kit, the Napsterized schools pay around $3 or $4 per student per month to let their kiddos rent as much music as they want. This teaches the students valuable lessons about how "university subsidized" actually means "tacked on to your IT fee" and how obedient consumers cherish recurring revenue models.

The Napsterized schools pay their monthly fee - say $200,000 for a large school - and then add on the costs of Napster- recommended IBM software and servers. The schools, however, have been very reluctant thus far to reveal exactly how much this total package costs. Duke, by contrast, fessed up to the $500,000 it will shell out for the hardware and support. Duke also bucks the other schools by having a device that works with both Macs and Windows. Napster lives in Microsoft country only.

"We're approaching this as an experiment, one we hope will motivate our faculty and students to think creatively about using digital audio content and a mobile computing environment to advance educational goals in the same way that iPods and similar devices have had such a big impact on music distribution," said Tracy Futhey, vice president for information technology at Duke. "We think the power and flexibility of these devices offer some real advantages over other media used to distribute educational content such as CD-ROMs and DVDs."

Somewhere, the pigopolists are burping.

Duke is also talking about using iPods to create audio editorials, to add more audio and video content to students' classes and to take verbal notes while doing field work. Duke's entire freshman class will receive the iPods and get to keep the device after their first year is done.

It's encouraging to see Duke step to the side of where the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) would like them to go.No pricey service. No cloaked costs. No Microsoft confines. Just a free toy and some creativity. ®

Pigopolist Pork 101

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Penn State trustee and RIAA lawyer denies conflict of interests
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