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College Students Get Free Music

January 22, 2007

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In another attempt to fight digital music piracy, the four major record labels and some independant labels have agreed to licence their music for free to college students through Ruckus Network.

Ruckus had originally hoped universities would pay a fee to offer free downloads to their students, thereby reducing the legal risks and some of the network expense associated with the use of illegal file-sharing networks. Only 20 universities agreed.

Last year, however, Ruckus decided to switch to a free, advertising-supported approach, although it still required universities to agree and to install a server on their campus networks.

That increased participation to about 100 schools, with “several hundred thousand” active users, said Michael J. Bebel, chief executive of Ruckus.

The new service, which is available now, does not require a university to participate. Rather, it will be made available to those who have an e-mail address ending in .edu, the top-level domain associated with educational institutions.

The music provided by the labels however, have some substantial restrictions. Ruckus uses Microsoft’s Windows media technology, so songs can be played only on a user’s personal computer. For $4.99 a month, users can buy the right to transfer the songs to portable devices compatible with the Microsoft format, including those made by SanDisk and Creative.

But the music will not play on Microsoft’s Zune player or, more important, on the Apple iPod.

The service, from , will be supported by advertising on its Web site and on the software used to download and play songs.

Phil Leigh, president of Inside Digital Media, a research firm, said that the move also represented a way for labels to experiment with advertising-supported music. This model might be better for the labels than radio, because they could share in the advertising revenue since music publishers, which represent the composers, are paid by radio stations, but the labels, which represent performing artists, are not.

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