Universities Refuse to Block Napster Access
Officials at nearly a dozen universities across the country say they won’t block students from using the embattled online music-sharing software Napster, despite a demand from a lawyer for two musicians.
Howard King, attorney for Dr. Dre and Metallica, sent letters to several university officials last month demanding they stop access to Napster on their computer systems, citing copyright infringement (see Black Issues, Oct. 12).
The software allows users to download songs from the Internet for free.
Dr. David Ward, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote a letter to King that was released last month. In it, Ward says limiting Internet access based on content “runs counter to our fundamental and cherished concepts of academic freedom and free speech, which are the linchpins of our mission to teach, research and disseminate information.”
Dr. Judith Rodin, president of the University of Pennsylvania, says she has similar reservations about banning Napster from university computers.
But the school plans to hold seminars about copyright law and online ethics for students and employees.
“We find your request troubling because it asks us to impose a blanket ban on access not simply to specific unlawful material, but to a tool that facilitates access to a broad range of materials,” Rodin wrote in a separate letter to King.
“Our policies prohibit the use of the university’s electronic resources to intentionally infringe on intellectual property rights, and the university investigates and takes appropriate action when allegations of specific infringement are brought to our attention.”
The Internet startup is currently embroiled in a lawsuit to shut it down for allegedly violating copyright laws.
The suit is pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The company claims it is immune from the suit because users legally copy music for personal use.
“The whole concept is, where do you draw the line?” University of Wisconsin attorney Henry Cuthbert says. “Today it’s Napster, tomorrow it’s someone else.”
Nearly 30 prominent schools were sent letters by King, asking them to ban access to Napster. At least 11 schools have refused so far. King says 40 percent of major universities have banned Napster.
Metallica and Dr. Dre claim that Napster is facilitating widespread copyright infringement. They have said the infringement is especially common at universities, many of which provide high-speed Internet connections for students.
King first sent letters last spring asking for a Napster ban at the University of Southern California, Indiana University and Yale University. When those three universities did not comply with the request, Metallica and Dr. Dre filed a lawsuit. That dispute was settled out of court when the three universities limited Napster use on campus.
Rodin, however, maintains that her university is not responsible for banning Napster use. She says the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it clear that Internet service providers are not responsible for illegal activity on their networks if they are not aware of the activity.
King says he’s not happy with such responses.
“We find it somewhat disingenuous for a university to talk about how highly they value intellectual property … and how much they abhor copyright infringement, and yet at the same time, they’re not going to do anything about a service offered through their system which everyone acknowledges exists to steal copyrighted material,” King says. “You can’t use the First Amendment to steal people’s property.”
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