Another Kind of Dining Hall
A tech company’s attempt to get college students to stop pirating music
Imagine your Facebook or MySpace account, with a feature that lets you share music files. That’s Ruckus – the latest corporate effort to entice students into downloading music for not-quite-free.
The Herndon, Virginia company has created software to allow students to browse other members’ music archives—and to download full tracks at no cost.
“It’s 100 percent free for all college students!” Ruckus’ website claims. The company says it makes 2.4 million tracks available.
The minor catch: to take it away from your desktop, you have to pay. It costs $4.99 per month to download the music into a portable device.
And you can’t download music into an iPod, by far the most ubiquitous portable music device on college campuses.
“Primarily, people go to the website to explore and discover that world of music,” said Ruckus CEO Mike Bebel, a music industry executive and entrepreneur who briefly ran Napster in 2003, in a podcast interview posted on the Ruckus website.
Ruckus initially signed deals with universities, which agreed to publicize the service to their students. Ruckus says it’s struck deals with more than 100 colleges, among them Princeton, the University of Southern California, the University of Pennsylvania, Michigan State University, the University of Dayton, Georgia Tech, Ball State, the University of Minnesota, the University of Delaware and Washington University in St. Louis— and that hundreds of thousands of students are using the service.
But in an effort to grow faster, Ruckus is now offering its services to any student at a U.S. college who has a dot-edu email address.
Four major labels and thousands of independent ones have licensed music to Ruckus, agreeing to let users download music at no cost. The service is supported by banner advertising and membership fees.
Ruckus only supports devices that use Microsoft’s Windows media formats, such as SanDisk, iRiver, and Creative, or portable phones or other multi-media devices ensured by Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.
Some students said the service was attractive anyway.
Janice Hung, an economics and marketing major at Washington University in St. Louis, has signed up—she likes the fast, accessible service.
But others found the lack of free portability a major negative.
“I don’t think I will use it,” said Jeremy Anderson, a recent graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. “It’s too much restriction, especially on DRM – and what if people don’t have the right player?” said Anderson, who has nine years of experience using digital file sharing software. He said he disliked the block against free music transfer to a portable device.
Amanda Lee, a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles, was likewise unimpressed.
“I think Ruckus’ services seem to be a bit of a hassle,” she said. “I kind of prefer the cost to be paid up front [like iTunes’ pay per song system] if there was a cost, and I pretty much have all my downloaded music on iPod.”
“People get frustrated when they can’t use music freely once they own it,” agreed Frankie Fredericks, CEO of the independent music label Cöñàr Records. DRM, he said, seems to be hitting consumers with a yellow light.
Alumni and faculty with dot-edu email addresses can use the service, but for an $8.99 monthly fee.
The technology industry often debates whether peer-to-peer software should be covered by “fair use.” During the Napster case in 2001, performers and recording companies took legal action to shut down such software, and the Napster site. Similar software, like Kazaa and Limewire quickly replaced Napster, and today millions of users worldwide are still sharing files – both legally and illegally. Much of the illegal file-sharing still happens on college campuses.
The Recording Industry Association of America sued over 20,000 music fans for file sharing between 2003 and 2006, according to statistics from Electronic Frontier Foundation.
File sharers have been duly frightened. College students who use on campus high-speed networks to transfer digital files are a big RIAA target.
Ruckus points out that it offers a legal safety net for college students who might not know what’s legal and what’s not.
The company “hopes that offering a free service through Ruckus will in fact, put the kids on a safe and legal platform that licenses and provides revenues back to the industry,” said Bebel in the podcast.