The RIAA and its business front Napster signed up six more universities today to their music rental service - a program that could force parents to shell out even more money for higher education costs.
Cornell University, the George Washington University, Middlebury College, University of Miami, the University of Southern California and the Wright State University (Ohio) have all pledged to have Napster up and running in the near future. The schools join Penn State University and University of Rochester as Napster subscribers. That's a grand total of eight schools in the last nine months that have agreed to become music vendors and pay an RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) tax to avoid lawsuits against their students.
There might be something noble about the schools protecting their children if it were not for the dubious circumstances surrounding these deals. None of the schools have yet to say how much they actually pay for the Napster service. It costs $10 a month for the average subscriber, but Penn State and University of Rochester have admitted to receiving the service for much less. And, in May, Ohio University revealed that Napster is looking for about $3 per month from each student.
The price in itself is a problem but not the main problem. Napster and the RIAA tossed Penn State and University of Rochester sweet deals, having every intention of dangling the schools in front of the press and other universities as models to follow. If Napster would be more forthcoming, we'd all know exactly how much this "service" is going to affect university prices. Some of the Napsterized schools have warned that students may end up footing the service bill directly in the near future - not that they aren't paying in some way, shape or form already.
What's more disconcerting is the way the RIAA has used legal threats to goad these schools toward becoming music brokers. The record labels have repeatedly been accused by the US government of price-fixing and other acts reminiscent of mob-like behavior. Now, they've tied up the courts with thousands of lawsuits and made it clear that universities are their primary targets. And now Cary "Baby Face" Sherman, president of the RIAA, is leaning on schools to pay up for Napster or continue on as legal targets.
It's lucky for Napster that the RIAA picked it as a henchman. Students can now download as many songs as they like while enrolled at a university. This is a nice service if holding onto to your tunes is not important. Once their four years at school are over, the students are cut off from Napster and lose all the music they've download. That is unless they pay 99 cents per song or $10 per album to own a permanent download that can be burned onto CDs or MP3 players.
Real Networks must be wondering what it did wrong to upset Baby Face Sherman, and Apple must be in hysterics as download hungry kids flock to its iPod device, where high margins reign.
"Napster simply outperformed our expectations," said Nicholas John Linder, former student assembly president, Cornell University. "In our role representing the student body, we needed to find a university-wide solution to online piracy and dispel the common fear of looming lawsuits. Napster offers a unique blend of a name students recognize, a broad music library that appeals to every taste and community features that let you discover new music and share your favorites with friends."
Linder forgot to mention that Sherman went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree. Good to keep it all in the family. ®
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