Students Fight to Save Napster

By Robert Menta- 3/3/00

We have always felt that the biggest force facing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in their bitter digital music exchanges are not the manufacturers of MP3 players or sites like MP3.com. Instead, it's a significant grass roots effort that has grown out of the RIAA lawsuits that seem to make headlines every other week.


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While the RIAA has systematically targeted companies and even individuals with legal action, the people who use the Internet show their disapproval by flocking to the exact institutions the industry association is trying to shut down.

Up until now, though, we never looked at this grass roots effort as an organized entity. We just saw it as a populace speaking through increased activity. Things are starting to heat up.

A little background. Through a quirk in the law, The RIAA is employing a clever strategy. Basically, if a IP hosts material that may (or may not) be in violation of copyright law, they will not be held accountable if they remove said material from their severs.

By sending a simple letter to these providers, the RIAA can scare them to do the associations police work for them. They used such a strategy to strike against the popular MP3 trading program Napster who the association is presently suing (see RIAA Sues Music Startup Napster for $20 Billion). Since college students are among the biggest users of Napster, and most get their access to the Net free through their universities, schools were the first to be targeted.

And quite a few colleges complied. First it was Carnegie Melon, then Oregon State University. Soon dozens of others blocked Napster. Students screamed.

But, they did more than that. They organized. Chad Paulson, is a case in point. The Indiana University sophomore first took action collecting signatures via an online petition in an attempt to get his university to open up a public dialogue on the issue. Armed with the URL www.savenapster.com, he took that petition beyond his school, stirring up quite a hornets nest in the process. His voice has been heard throughout the MP3 community through his web site and such high traffic venues like CNN, ABC News, ZDnet, and MP3.com.

So far the results of student action have been effective. After a town meeting with its student body, University of Southern California announced that it will not ban the use of popular MP3 trading software Napster. Students at the State University of New York Albany Campus also convinced their school to re-instate Napster.

Vox Populi? Like we said, the RIAA may have underestimated the masses. This is an important detail because the same people who now view the RIAA as this evil entity are also their customers. They should take this point very seriously. Just read Chad's letter to us below. He sounds like a man on a mission.

Greetings,

I am a sophomore at Indiana University. Recently the university, among others, have banned the use of Napster, (an MP3 client). There are many freely distributed MP3 files out on the internet for evaluation use from labels such as K Records, Up Records, and Veronica Records that we can no longer have access to due to this ban. We have recently organized a group called STUDENTS AGAINST UNIVERSITY CENSORSHIP. We just wanted you to take a look at the URL below of our website (mainly our open letter, petition, and message board). Feel free to respond with any possible comments or questions.

We've had a lot of media exposure over the past 2 weeks. MP3.com, wired.com, Wired Magazine, SPIN magazine, Industry Standard, the LA Times, and US News & World Report, ABCNEWS.COM, and ZD NET News, among others have written articles featuring our organizations efforts to counteract the nation's growing university ban on the use of Napster. We also have been featured on a radio show, "online today", as of 2-16/00. The most up to date publicity can be found on the front page news section.

Our goal is to provide a voice for the students. The students being the vary people who pay tuition and should at least be heard by the administration in a democratic fashion. We respect the appeal that USC recently imposed on their students and we will fight until every university in the nation realizes that students should be able to use napster and still maintain the universities fair use policy. Point in case, the universities need to crack down on the irresponsible students that are abusing the network. They should not hold Napster, or any other media-sharing company accountable for the irresponsibility of certain students.

Sincerely Chad Paulson
Founder Students Against University Censorship
http://www.savenapster.com

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