U offers file-sharing program alternative

by Emily Kaiser

As the Recording Industry Association of America fights back at illegal music file-sharers, the University has begun offering students a discounted online music service as a legal alternative.

The University is offering students a free two-week trial of the service to encourage legal ways to download music online, but some students said they are skeptical about changing their downloading habits.

The service, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, will allow University students on and off campus to stream music through a downloaded program for as little as $2 a month and download individual songs for 79 cents a song. Normally, a subscription would cost $9 a month.

The program offers more than 730,000 songs and more than 58,000 albums, with more being added each day, said Erika Shaffer, a spokeswoman for RealNetworks.

But having the service available does not ensure that students will download music legally, said Shih-Pau Yen, deputy chief information officer at the University.

“This is not a technology issue, it’s a habit change,” Yen said. “Technology has provided the infrastructure and power to download music illegally, but students need to have the opportunity to change those habits.”

Zachary Carlson, a fifth-year student majoring in English and French at the University, downloads music on free file-sharing programs which the RIAA has used to target file-sharers who illegally copy and share copyrighted music.

Carlson said his concerns with the paid programs are the variety of music found on the program and the price per song.

“The price for each song is not that much cheaper than buying the whole CD,” he said. “When you buy the CD, you get the cover art, which I think is an essential part of the music


The University joins more than a dozen schools across the nation to give students a discounted music download program.

RealNetworks has started its discounted college subscriptions at the University of Minnesota, as well as the University of California-Berkeley.

“Universities are a new area that we are focusing on,” Shaffer said.

College students are a good target for the program, because of their interest in a wide variety of music and their access to computers with high-speed Internet connections, Shaffer said.

The first school to offer a similar program, Penn State, saw 85 percent participation in its program that began in the spring. The service averaged 100,000 streams or downloads a day, said Sam Haldeman, assistant to the associate vice provost.

For Penn State, the start of the program was primarily a legal issue.

“As a higher institution of education, we thought it was our responsibility to educate students about the ramifications of those laws and the alternatives,” Haldeman said.

However, the University did not start the service because of concerns about the RIAA suing the school.

“Our own legal analysis is that the University itself is not an available target for the recording industry, because we are not involved in any way with the copyright violations, and we don’t encourage students to do that,” said Mark Rotenberg, general counsel at the University.

Yen said the University will not make any money from the deal, but is offering it as part of a continuing effort by the University to give students low-cost technology.

The program is a one-year pilot program, and the University and RealNetworks will determine its success based on how many students sign up.

“We hope the students in the residence halls really take advantage of this,” Yen said. “If we get 30 to 40 percent of on-campus students to sign up, it will be very successful to us.”

John Barber, a nutrition science senior at the University, said he already downloads music through I-Tunes, a top competitor in the online music industry.

“I don’t think I download enough for this program to be worth it,” he said.

But Barber said the program might become popular, particularly in the residence halls.

“I think students will try anything for cheap,” he said. “After the lawsuits, people realize that the risk isn’t worth it and will pay a couple bucks.”

Rhapsody Music for Students

The online music service Rhapsody will be offered free for two weeks. After the two-week trial, students can subscribe to the service for the following discounted rates:

Individual songs, 79 cents each

One-month subscription, $2.99

Three-month subscription, $5.99

Twelve-month subscription, $23.99

To subscribe to the service or for more information, visit the University TechMart Web site at www.techmart.umn.edu