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Penn State President loves Microsoft, Napster, the RIAA and Al Gore (true)

The ultimate groupie

A note issued this week to Penn State University students about the school's music deal with Napster has raised a number of controversial new questions about the finer points of the two groups' relationship and exactly how it began.

In the note, Penn State admits it is not actually paying much at all for the Napster service and that Mac users will need to fork over hundreds of dollars to join their Windows counterparts in music bliss. This all comes as Penn State and Napster have billed their collaboration a sound business model for other universities hoping to enter the music business. As it turns out, the sketchy underpinnings of the Penn State/Napster deal may well be a result of university President Graham Spanier's ties to the Democratic party and his political ambitions.

First to the note.

This missive appeared in a Penn State newsletter this week and was forwarded on to us by an alert student. It answers several questions about why Penn State decided to get into the music business by offering Napster's online music store to students at no charge. You'll recall that both Penn State and Napster billed their relationship as a possible model for all universities.

As some suspected, however, the business model behind the deal appears weak at best. You might wonder how Napster could afford to give away a $9 per month service to 80,000 students or how Penn State could foot the bill. Here's the answer.

"The IT fee will no doubt increase next academic year, but by no more than would ordinarily be necessary to support the University's IT infrastructure and other applications. There will be no additional increase because of our contract with Napster. This is possible because the cost to the University of providing Napster for students, although confidential, is very low as a result of Penn State being the pioneering school to launch an on-line music service. Penn State has worked closely with Napster and the recording industry to design a new service for college and university students."

This contains not one but two gems. First, by "very low," we suspect Penn State means free. Again, we urge all universities trying to enter the music business with Napster to negotiate a similar, kind fee. Second, the bit about about working closely with the music industry seems to undermine earlier denials of cronyism by RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) lawyer AND Penn State trustee Barry Robinson.

It's a peculiar thing that neither the RIAA nor Penn State would ever have asked Robinson about this service given the two groups were working so closely together. It seems like a conflict of interests that Robinson serves in an advisory capacity for both organizations and looks rather odd that he would not advise them on shared matters - especially legal ones.

If the plot wasn't thick enough already, we'll help fatten it up a bit.

Microsoft for everyone!

The Penn State newsletter also goes on to break some painful news to Mac users on campus. Back when the music deal was first announced, a Penn State spokesman told The Reg that Napster was working on a Mac version of its software that students could use. A Napster insider told us this was patently false, and now Penn State seems to be up-to-speed.

"The service is unavailable on Macs. With the addition of Microsoft's Virtual PC with Windows XP, most Macs will be able to use Napster."

So, for more than $200, Mac users at Penn State will have the same, unfettered access to tethered downloads as their Windows counterparts.

You'll notice that Microsoft sells the VirtualPC product. It acquired the code earlier this year in its purchase of Connectix. Yet, another coincidence, right?

Napster is owned by Roxio - a company that enjoys very close ties with, you guessed it, Microsoft. Here's a sample of the connection straight from a Roxio press release.

"Napster also enjoys a long-standing relationship with Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 Series, in which the Napster 2.0 service will be accessible to music fans through the Player's "Services" tab. Additionally, Napster users can utilize the Windows Media Player 9 Series to transfer songs to most of the top-selling portable devices sold in the marketplace today."

From all of this, you might suspect that Penn State through its phenomenal ties to the RIAA, willingly became a DRM shop for Microsoft and Roxio. After all, our friend Penn State Prez Spanier serves as co-chair of the Committee on Higher Education and the Entertainment Industry with Cary Sherman - President of the RIAA. Together these gentlemen developed a "model" for schools everywhere to help give students what they need - a DRM outbreak worse than last year's Gono blast.

The enthusiasm of Penn State for imposing such a burdensome and unpopular scheme on its students, nay its customers, is little short of astonishing to the outsider. What is this university and its administrators gaining from such a deal?

The Gore connection

Dredging somewhere close to conspiracy theory and/or reality is the thought that Spanier has taken on the role of RIAA lapdog to further his political ambitions.

During the robust Clinton years, 1997 to be exact, the White House issued a statement complimenting Spanier and others for their work at University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) in overseeing the Internet2 project. This paved the way for a very chummy relationship between Gore and Spanier. In fact, Spanier makes an appearance in the Gore's Joined at the Heart book.

"When we talked to Graham Spanier, the eminent family sociologist who now serves as president of Pennsylvania State University, he put it this way: 'One hundred to one hundred fifty years ago, families were the center of everything. But the most distinctive thing about the American family today is that it is based primarily on love. It is the locus of intimacy and emotional support.'"

Isn't that touching?

Looking over Spanier's bio, you might get the feeling that the academic has some serious political ambitions. He has served in the following posts: Board of Directors of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, Deputy chair of the Worldwide Universities Network, chair of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, chair of the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities, Board of Trustees of the National 4-H Council, founding member of the Board of Directors of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (Internet2), president of the National Council on Family Relations, and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Christian Children's Fund.

This is a busy man.

As a friend of the Gores, Spanier is also a friend of the media industry. Over the past fourteen years, Democrats have received 69 percent of the whopping $150 million in contributions handed out by TV, Music and Movie companies. Have a look over here to see exactly which vendors are scratching the Dems' back. And here you can see the good people at the RIAA greasing up both sides.

And what better way to show your allegiance to the media moguls than to come out as the savior of the music industry at colleges - the model, if you will. Top that by inviting the pigopolist mob to dine right at the trough full of rich college kid cash.

The students at Penn State should start asking some serious questions about why they have been picked as the test case for the music industry's college song store. It certainly was not for the Mac users benefit, and it's questionable as to how much tethered downloads benefit students at all. There is, however, one fellow that looks to come out of the deal looking like the RIAA's most noble crusader, and we think you know who it is. ®

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