The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday May 27th

Catching up on downloading

UNC's attempt at legal file-sharing is stuck in limbo

It was a plan full of possibility. Buoyed by start-up money from an anonymous donor, the UNC system was going to provide students access to four major sources of legal downloads. It would say, "Go ahead. Download music and movies to your heart's content. It's all legal. Heck, use our money." It would then evaluate that pilot program and come up with a way for students at all 16 UNC campuses to snatch their favorite songs and movies from the Internet - without running afoul of copyright laws. But more than a year later, the pilot program - which grew to include six campuses, including UNC-Chapel Hill - has come and gone. Though the UNC system has inked contracts with Cdigix, Napster and Ruckus Network, three of the most popular media providers among college students, not a single campus uses any of the services. In short, UNC-CH doesn't provide its students with access to cheap, legal downloads. That puts the United States' oldest public university in line with the majority of its peers. Of the thousands of colleges across the nation, fewer than 100 provide subsidized legal downloads. But the small handful that do say they're doing the right thing. They range from tiny liberal-arts colleges to mammoth institutions including Wake Forest University, the University of California-Berkeley and University of California-Los Angeles. And - spurred by student demand and the sense that legal downloads might offer a school a competitive advantage - their numbers are growing. Is it possible that UNC-CH could join their ranks? John Streck, assistant vice chancellor for telecommunications at UNC-CH says maybe. And maybe not. "I haven't heard the topic come up," Streck said. "There's a lot of other things on the table that we're having to deal with, and because of that, I think those issues are driving more of our attention." Still, he added, a groundswell of student support could prompt the University to consider the possibility - especially if it could be done cost-effectively. "If there's something going on and there's both illegal and legal ways of doing it, we're going to try to do that legally," Streck said. Unfulfilled promise UNC-CH's experience with legal downloads was more of a whirlwind romance than a long-term commitment. Along with students at N.C. State University, Tar Heels living in campus housing had one semester - spring 2005 - to try out one of four legal downloading services for free. The University made Napster, Ruckus, Cdigix and RealNetworks' Rhapsody available to that group of more than 7,000 students - many of whom, campus administrators say, likely were using peer-to-peer services such as Kazaa or LimeWire to swap media files illegally. Roughly 40 percent of eligible students eventually signed up for that pilot program. It wasn't quite the 85 percent who signed up for Napster at Penn State University in 2003, but student leaders and administrators were still encouraged. By the time the program ended in May, it seemed inevitable that legal music and movie downloads were here to stay. By fall 2005, the UNC system had signed deals with Napster, Ruckus and Cdigix that allowed - and still allow - each individual campus to make a deal with one or more providers. "It enables the campuses to have a longer-term arrangement in providing those resources to students," said Robyn Render, the UNC system's vice president for information resources, in a September interview with The Daily Tar Heel. "We certainly do anticipate that some of them will." But UNC-CH took a different route - one similar, in fact, to that of the university down U.S. 15-501. "Music is available everywhere," said Larry Moneta, Duke University's vice president for student affairs. "We don't need to be an intermediary for music access." Duke once subscribed to the Cdigix service, but that was as part of a larger digital initiative that has since expanded to include the iPod, Moneta said. In his experience, Duke students who want legal music are willing to sign up and pay for it themselves. Only a few students have asked for a university-backed program. Duke also takes measures to control the amount of bandwidth each student eats up, so it doesn't need legal downloading to help maintain the campus network. All those reasons, Moneta said, add up to a compelling case for Duke to stay out of the downloading game. "Duke has never entertained, in any way, a music program," he said. "And I don't imagine that we ever will." If any of that sounds familiar, it should. Most universities that don't provide legal downloads tend to echo Moneta's comments. They point out that students who really want legal downloads still can get them, using services ranging from Apple's popular iTunes to RealNetworks' Rhapsody to the providers under contract with the UNC system. Students simply have to pay the full cost of using the services. There's also not much evidence to suggest that students will stop participating in illegal file-sharing if they have a legal alternative. And it's often hard to justify a subsidy for services, such as legal downloading, that relate only tangentially to an institution's academic mission. Especially when more students seem to care about "legalizing it" than legal music. Before Yue Ke got a cease-and-desist notice from Columbia Pictures, the UNC-CH sophomore computer science and economics major was downloading everything he could to his laptop in Teague Residence Hall. "Movies, programs, games, music - you name it, I probably downloaded it," Ke wrote in an e-mail. "On average, I probably accounted for a third to half of the total network traffic for my dorm, which was about four to five movies every day. And within three weeks, I filled up a 60-gig MP3 player." The bottom line is this: To some college administrators, Ke is the sort of student who justifies the subsidizing of legal downloading - if it were legal, he'd pay. To others, he represents every undergrad who just wants to get things free, legality be damned. And Ke himself? He'd pay for legal downloads - if the price were right. "Everyone knows that college students are broke," he wrote. "If it was included in housing or tuition or something that I would be paying for anyways, I'd probably use it." Short of conducting a time-consuming poll, there's no real way of knowing what all students think. But if enough of them speak up, Streck said, things could change. "We'll take a look at these things," he said. "And if it helps and enhances the student experience at the University of North Carolina, that's a good thing." What are other schools doing? Penn State University The first college in the country to offer legal downloading programs to its students uses Napster, which is paid for with student fees. The cost of a permanent download of a song (as opposed to the streaming-audio format) is 99 cents per track. UC-Berkeley Berkeley was one of the first schools in the country to give its students access to RealNetworks' Rhapsody downloading service. Students pay a flat fee of $2 per month for unlimited use; the program isn't available to students who don't pay. Wake Forest University The Demon Deacons are piloting Cdigix, a program aimed at college campuses and students. Cdigix's streaming audio is free for students, with individual tracks running 89 cents a pop to download. Contact the A&E Editor at


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