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Penn State, Roxio link to let files flow

Penn State signs on for new Napster service

Napster once haunted university officials. Now it's one school's best hope for curbing illegal music sharing on campus Internet networks.

In the first deal between a university and a major Internet music service, Pennsylvania State University yesterday said it would soon begin delivering digital music to thousands of its students through a deal with Roxio Inc., which acquired the name of the shuttered file-trading program and relaunched it last month as a legitimate business.

Penn State and music industry officials said the service will be the first of its kind on college campuses and provide a model for other universities struggling to prevent their students from downloading and distributing copyrighted songs and movies.

"We truly believe this could be an important first step in changing the way that our students access music," Penn State president Graham B. Spanier said during a news conference at a meeting of educators in Anaheim, Calif.

With access to universities' fast networks, college students are among the most fervent users of file-sharing programs like the original, now defunct Napster and its most popular successor, Kazaa. The nation's largest record labels have filed more than 340 lawsuits against people who make copyrighted songs available through these programs for others to download. Spanier said the Napster service was designed to protect students from such lawsuits.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently shut down a campus music service that would have delivered songs over the school's cable television network. MIT officials had believed the use was legal under US copyright law, but temporarily abandoned the experiment after record companies complained.

Spanier said the Napster service was designed to relieve universities of the heavy file-sharing that bogged down their networks.

Students will be able to listen to Napster's catalog of more than 500,000 songs streamed over the Internet and to download songs onto their computers at no cost. But those free downloads are what the industry calls "tethered" -- they disappear when the Napster subscription ends after a student graduates. To own digital music permanently, burn it onto a CD, or transfer it to a portable music player, a student must pay 99 cents per song.

The agreement is a boon to Roxio's Napster 2.0 service as it competes with a growing number of businesses selling music downloads and subscriptions to streaming music. The leading music download service is Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, which said yesterday it had sold 1.5 million songs during the past week alone, and 17 million total, compared to 300,000 songs sold by Napster in its first week.

Napster's software does not work on Apple computers.

The New York Post yesterday cited anonymous sources in reporting that Apple is nearing a marketing deal with McDonald's Corp. for the fast-food giant to buy and give away up to 1 billion songs from iTunes. Representatives from Apple and McDonald's declined to comment.

Many college students have grown accustomed to getting their music for free. But the file-sharing programs they use are plagued with viruses, incomplete or fake versions of songs, and slow download speeds. If students like the Napster service now, they may become paying customers after they graduate, said Mike Bebel, Napster's president and chief operating officer.

"This deal encourages a new generation to try a legitimate service, enjoy and adopt it, and later when they have more time and money, continue it," he said.

That desire to reach young potential customers encouraged Napster to give Penn State a heavy discount. Though he would not disclose the price, Spanier said Penn State had received a low enough price that it would not have to charge students extra for the service. The cost will be included in the existing $160-per-student fee charged all students for information technology.

"It is unusual, but I think we're going to see it becoming more and more common," Spanier said.

Penn State plans to begin offering the service on Jan. 12, the first day of the spring semester, to the 18,000 students who live in university residence halls. The service will be available to all 83,000 students, as well as faculty and staff, next fall.

Joe Jarzab, a senior at Penn State's Erie campus, criticized the university for using money from the technology budget to buy music instead of upgrading the school's networks or computer labs. "They're using our money for something that we don't even want," he said.

Chris Gaither can be reached at gaither@globe.com.

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