I want my MP3

Students protest block on free digital music website

By Robert McCool

Reactions ranged from outrage to reluctant acceptance following a January decision by the university Office of Information Systems to block access to Napster.com, a website that offers free software for trading digital recordings over the Internet.

Associate Vice President for Information Systems Raney Ellis said the decision was made because students with Napster software were using an excessive amount of the universiy’s Internet capacity. "Between 10 and 20 percent of the traffic was Napster traffic," Ellis said.

Napster provides an index of MP3 digital recordings. MP3 allows computer users to compress music into files that are close to CD quality yet small enough to travel quickly over the Internet.

Until Napsyer there has not been an easy way to find such music and then make it available to others. By linking thousands of PC's into a kind of pirates' cooperative, Napster creates an enormous and continually expanding library of song titles from which users can choose.

If many students are running the software at the same time, it creates a heavy load on the University’s Internet connector line, slowing down access for other users, Ellis said.

Copyright and legal issues also arose. Copying and exchanging digital music recordings is illegal, just as it is for copyrighted CDs and videos. Violators face a felony conviction, with up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. If the university is notified by an outside organization that a student is illegally trading MP3s, it, too, could become liable for not taking action to halt these practices, Ellis noted.

Puget Sound is not alone in blocking the Napster site. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in February that the Boston University, North Carolina State, Northwestern and dozens other colleges and universities had blocked Napster because of bandwidth consumption problems.

Still, some students felt the university was unjustly infringing on their right to free access of the Internet, claiming administrators were assuming too large of a parental role.

"I don’t think they should block any websites at all," said Doug Herstad ’02. "It really should be up to the students."