Recently, Provost Charles Phelps clarified some technical details of the deal UR signed with the online music retailer, Napster.
Phelps, the chair of a Task Force on Technology for the Joint Committee on Peer-to-Peer File Sharing, revealed the motivation for signing a deal with Napster.
“The committee was set up to control bandwidth usage in places like universities where illegal transfers tend to clog up the server,” Phelps said. “Of the eight companies we talked to, we chose Napster because it had the largest catalog of free music and of the price they charged for the university.”
Phelps reassured that the one-year free access to Napster would not translate to increased fees.
“No tuition increase. It’s like investment money on our part,” Phelps declares. “It’s like wireless technology on campus – just because everyone doesn’t necessarily use it, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide it.”
The service, offered to all on-campus students, still needs much technical work. Phelps indicated that it would take at least a few more months for it to be functioning.
“The service should hopefully be available by this semester. We have to go over some technical details to ensure smooth access,” Phelps said. “Penn. State University have been running only for the past three or four weeks. They signed their deal in November.”
UR will set up a separate server in order to ease the probable bandwidth congestion.
“We’re thinking of setting up a specialized local cache, which is basically a large UNIX box, to ease the bandwidth usage,” Phelps said.
When asked about the future for file-sharing programs like KaZaA, Phelps claimed it was not their priority at the moment.
“We’re not looking at individual activity now,” Phelps said. “We just want to see how much of the illegal activity will go away after the first year. We just want to shape the volumes of transfers going out, to the world.”
Phelps wants to progress slowly into sharing non-music files.
“Napster’s thinking ‘for now, let’s get the music done first and then see what to do then.’ Movies would probably be a natural extension,” Phelps said.
Phelps, however, warns students that if the Recording Industry Association of America subpoeanas UR students, then the university will be forced to give their names. “If the RIAA comes to us and asks us for names behind certain IP addresses, then we have to give it to them by law. There are going to be sued,” Phelps firmly said.
Phelps also described the process by which music groups can place their music on the server. “It is difficult for [Napster] to form copyright agreements with thousands of individual artists. So, someone called an aggregator will assist in making such agreements with Napster and the large pool of individual artists on campus. The Eastman aggregator will help us through the process.”
Turning his attention to Macintosh users, Phelps disclosed that the problem was not Napster’s software but instead, Apple computers.
“There is something called ‘digital rights management’ – technology that prevents the burning of downloadded songs onto CDs. The DRM compatible with Napster is built-in to Windows 2000 and XP. However, Apple refuses to install the same DRM in their computers. Napster is not the only software program with DRMs incompatible with Macs. I do feel though that they will eventually have to put it in,” Phelps concluded.
Phelps then emphasized the importance of educating the users in this area – something that he hopes Cary Sherman, President of the Recording Industry Association of America, himself and others will do during the debate on Feb. 16.
“The Napster deal is also a way of educating the users. We hope to reaffirm this during the debate. We’re also considering a two-credit course that will teach students how to lead discussions on such issues. Hopefully, we can also integrate it with the freshman orientation,” Phelps said.
As a preview of what the debate will entail, Phelps outlined the differing views that would be defended.
“The RIAA would like universities to control our download activities. This involves an invasion of privacy. We’re saying ‘It’s your copyright, you protect it.’ They’re saying ‘It’s your server, you fix it.'”
Phelps, as a final note, invited students to debate saying “See you Monday night.” The debate, entitled “What part of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ do you not understand,” will feature the Provost, Cary Sherman, Special Advisor to the CIO at the University Marjorie Shaw, senior and director of the Yellowjackets David Marvin. Moderated by President Thomas Jackson, it will be held in Hoyt Auditorium at 8 p.m. on Feb. 16.
Madhur can be reached at