Universities Snub Napster Ban Request

In a broad rebuke to attorneys representing the artists Metallica and Dr. Dre, four prominent universities rejected the request to ban Napster access on their campuses yesterday.

The Boston Globe reported yesterday that Harvard is expected to respond similarly next week.

MIT, Stanford University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina all declined to restrict access to the music-sharing service in letters sent to Howard E. King, the attorney representing Dr. Dre and Metallica.

The four universities were the first to respond to the attorney's request for a Napster ban on college campuses.

In similarly argued letters, the universities claimed that as Internet service providers (ISP), their networks acted simply as conduits of information, and they had no legal responsibility for the misuse of their systems.

"Stanford has no involvement in the alleged infringement described in your letter," wrote William F. Abrams, an attorney representing Stanford. "Stanford merely offers its faculty, students and staff connections for digital online communications, online services and network access."

Furthermore, the Universities argued that blocking access to Napster was inconsistent with their commitment to the freedom of information.

"As an educational institution providing its community of users with Internet access, we do not monitor or bar access to use of the Internet. This policy is consistent with MIT's educational mission and our deeply held values of academic freedom," wrote James D. Bruce, MIT's vice-president for information systems.

Letters from officials at both Stanford and MIT said they did not approve of copyright infringement, and would take appropriate action if King could cite particular instances of infringement.

But King said it was not feasible for his clients to investigate each individual Napster user.

"I'm disappointed in the attitude [the universities] have taken, which is 'we don't know anything, we don't have any responsibility unless we know anything, tell us who's infringing and then we'll take decisive steps,' " King said.

"I don't think there are any doubts that people know what Napster's used for, and how much it's used on college campuses," he continued.

Princeton University and the University of California system, among other universities contacted by King, are expected to respond to the request today.

In the meantime, King said he would not yet respond with legal action against the universities that refuse to ban Napster.

"We're going to try to keep a dialogue with these universities, maybe point them to some authority that they've ignored or are not aware of, that tells them they have a higher responsibility than just putting their head in their sand," he said.

That higher authority, King said, is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which requires that ISP's take reasonable steps to put an end to copyright violations which they are made aware of by the copyright holder.

It is unclear whether the act would require universities to block access to Napster.