Battle over Napster arrives on campus

Some colleges monitor Internet use to identify copyright infringement; others refuse to restrict students' Web site access

"We are an educational institution and we will err on the side of unfettered access to information," Georgia Tech spokesman Bob Harty told the Associated Press.   Other students around the country have not enjoyed such an attitude from their administrators.   At Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, graphics design freshman Scott Wickberg was charged in November with a misdemeanor count of unlawful advertisement and distribution of sound recordings. Wickberg operated a file-sharing Web site called "Lucky's."   After receiving a tip from the Recording Industry Association of America, which has a full-time staff that surfs the Internet looking for copyright law violators, OSU police obtained a search warrant and confiscated his computer from his dorm room in September.   Wickberg's site allowed users to log on with a password and download any of his 10,167 MP3 music files.   Wickberg appeared before the Payne County District Court on Nov. 22 to answer for the charges. Under Oklahoma law, he could receive a maximum of a $5,000 fine. He could have been charged with felony sound recording distribution, punishable with a $50,000 fine and up to five years in prison.   District Attorney Charles Rogers would not directly address why his office chose the lesser charge, but Doug Curry, a spokesman for RIAA said their work "is not a matter of going after students; it's about educating students on copyright laws."   At Penn State University in State College, university officials sent out an e-mail in September warning students and faculty of the university's ban against copying copyrighted material. The message also said officials monitor the school's network to identify heavy bandwidth users, which could indicate heavy Napster use. The university's policy is not new, but the warning has apparently confused some Penn State students who said they have trouble identifying which files are copyrighted and which are not.   The policy does not require Penn State network users to delete the Napster program. Since the warning, the university has identified about 100 heavy bandwidth users, but no formal criminal or disciplinary charges have been filed.   In New York, officials at Syracuse University are waiting until the final resolution of Napster's legal wrangling before issuing any sort of ban on its campus use. Syracuse was not one of the 27 schools formally petitioned to ban Napster use.   In Murfreesboro, Tenn., Middle Tennessee State University officials handed down a Napster ban last spring but stressed that it is not a result of the legal battles surrounding the program. Instead, the university is filtering Napster and other music-sharing software such as iMesh and Gnutella because of a bandwidth shortage on its computing system. After the ban was implemented, officials said they saw a noticeable decrease in the amount of bandwidth being consumed.

reports, Winter 2000-01