The Right Note on Campus

COLLEGE officials have tough jobs - how to meet a budget, how to maintain academic standards, even how to deal with irascible coaches. Add to that list another item: how to keep students from bingeing on Napster.

Napster, you'll recall, is a company that operates a Web site that allows users to easily exchange computer files containing popular songs. Last July a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Napster for infringement of copyright. An appeals court stayed that injunction pending a hearing next month at which both sides will state their case.

The sides are Napster, which argues it's simply facilitating the sharing of favorite music by individuals, and a phalanx of music-industry interests and officials who say this dotcom threatens the whole concept of copyright law and intellectual property.

Back on campus, Napster is probably as popular as ever with music-hungry undergrads. But increasing numbers of them are finding it harder to swap songs online. That's because many colleges have taken anti-Napster steps.

Prodding such steps are technological, legal, and moral concerns. Heavy use of the Web site can clog campus computer networks, slowing or stopping Internet service for those with serious research in mind. The technological fix is to block access to Napster on these networks, and dozens of schools have done that.

Legal concerns have also helped raise the barriers. A number of leading universities have received letters from the lawyers representing the music industry against Napster. They were asked, in reasoned but firm tones, to block the service. Colleges take copyright issues seriously, as they do the hint of future lawsuits. Most have complied.

Colleges also take intellectual freedom seriously, and some aren't comfortable with monitoring or blocking students' Web wanderings. A few have decided moral suasion is the answer. Instruct students about the ethics of the situation, including the probability they're stealing copyrighted material. Then, it's hoped, they will put the brakes on themselves.

That approach has merit, despite cynics who say kids will do whatever it takes to get free music. Indeed, ways to get around blocked access to Napster are sprouting.

In any case, the Napster controversy gives educators a singular opportunity to help students realize that the e-world they'll be living and working in will require morals and ethics no less than the old bricks and mortar world.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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