A music-sharing site supported by the Recording Industry Association of America is lending its support to new federal legislation intended to strong-arm universities into curbing peer-to-peer piracy.
The chief executive of Ruckus.com, which offers advertising-supported music at no cost to college students, said Monday that he backs a bill introduced Friday by Democrats that requires universities to agree to offer "alternatives" to peer-to-peer infringement--upon pain of all their students losing federal financial aid.
Ruckus would probably be the largest single beneficiary of that requirement. And its CEO, Mike Bebel, is enthusiastic about the legislation.
"I think that's the right approach," he said, referring to the 747-page spending and financial aid bill. "There are plenty of us who are out there offering alternatives."
"I think that's fair and appropriate," Bebel added. "I see no reason why (this requirement) should be different from any other mandate that's associated with federal money. The schools themselves are IP-based entities. Why shouldn't they be accountable for helping their brethren?"
Ruckus uses digital rights management (DRM) technology--Windows Media--to limit the use of downloaded songs. They can be played on Windows computers, but not on a Macintosh running OS X, a Linux computer, an iPhone, or an iPod. When students leave or graduate, their music collection stops working.
Even with those limitations, Ruckus has managed to sign up over 170 schools, with either no fees or minimal fees (to cover the cost of a local server) required. "Our model has been working, and the legislation supports a model that (has) been working," Bebel said.
The RIAA has lauded Ruckus as a way to wean students off of peer-to-peer networks, calling the Web site and service an "innovative business model."
Opposing this idea are the universities themselves, which don't like additional strings attached to the nearly $100 billion doled out each year in federal financial aid.
A letter sent last week to House Democrats charged: "Such an extraordinarily inappropriate and punitive outcome would result in all students on that campus losing their federal financial aid--including Pell grants and student loans that are essential to their ability to attend college, advance their education, and acquire the skills necessary to compete in the 21st-century economy." It was signed by the chancellor of the University of Maryland system, the president of Stanford University, the general counsel of Yale University, and the president of Penn State.