Students Saying No to Free Music Services

For the last several years—indeed, since the early days of the original Napster—the high-speed data networks of colleges and universities have been hotbeds of illegal song-swapping, either via direct connections or peer-to-peer networking services. In an effort to clamp down on wasted bandwidth and copyright infringement (as well as to avoid potentially massive legal entanglements with the RIAA), over 120 campuses signed onto digital music subscription services—like the new Napster, but also Cdigix, Ruckus, and Rhapsody—and are providing their students free, legal access to millions of digital tunes as a benefit of enrollment.

But guess what? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, students are mostly ignoring that free music in favor of download-to-own services like Apple’s iTunes Music Store or often-illegal downloads via peer-to-peer services. Why? The free music offered by their soon-to-be alma maters has too many strings attached.

Both students and school officials report that restrictions imposed by the legal music services are stifling adoption: students may be able to listen to songs free on their laptops, but may have to pay separately to burn the material onto CDs or load them onto a portable music player. In some cases, students can only keep music while enrolled: once they leave campus or graduate, they can no longer access music obtained via the service. Furthermore, none of the subscription services selling themselves to campuses are incompatible with Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management system—hence, none of the services can be used with Macs (used by about one in five college students) or Apple’s virtually-iconic iPod music players (used by about 2 in 5 college students).

As a result, some campuses are rethinking their digital music offerings, with big league schools Cornell and Purdue backing out of the idea altogether, the University of Southern California switching to Ruckus another service after fewer than 500 students signed up for Napster service.

For its part, the RIAA has never sued a campus over illegal song swapping, but the organization says it does sue students swapping tunes illegally, and does send takedown orders to universities found to be hosting materials which infringe on copyright. The RIAA also seems to think subscription services can succeed on campuses, and is quoted as saying the number of schools offering digital music to students will increase "pretty significantly" this fall.