Duke University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently rejected a request by lawyers for some major music artists to halt the use of Napster. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) also has declined to impose a ban.
Howard King, a Los Angeles attorney who represents heavy metal band Metallica and rap star Dr. Dre, sent letters earlier this month to about a dozen prominent educational institutions asking campus administrators to restrict access to Napster.
Similar legal pressure led to Yale University's decision to ban Napster from its networks earlier this year.
College students, many of whom have access to high-speed connections on campus, are believed to be the biggest fans of Napster's file-swapping service, which allows people to find and download popular song titles for free. Last year, usage was so heavy on some university computers that systems administrators blocked access to Napster to relieve bandwidth congestion.
Critics of Napster, including the recording industry, cite legal rather than technical considerations in calling for a ban on the service. They contend that the company's service and other similar technologies facilitate widespread copyright abuses and the illegal replication and distribution of music.
The Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster over its service and won a preliminary injunction this summer that could shut down the music site. That order, which has been stayed temporarily pending an appeal, could take effect by early next month if the judges reviewing the case refuse to throw it out.
Though the lights may soon go out on Napster, some college administrations that have been asked to throw the switch early have refused, citing a lack of legal ground.
In its response letter to King, Duke University attorneys wrote, "We are not aware of any legal authority that would require the university to ban access to Napster."
The universities say they support academic freedom and uncensored access to information. Duke wrote: "We trust that you will acknowledge that there are legitimate educational and other non-infringing uses of Napster. Banning access to Napster, therefore, would be an overbroad response to a specific problem, and it would have the effect of foreclosing legitimate and lawful uses of Napster."
Duke administrators emailed a message to all students reminding them that their "license to use Duke's computing networks is predicated on legal use only."
King, a partner at the law firm of King, Purtich, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lawyers for Stanford University, in their response letter to King, said the college simply provides online connections for students, faculty and staff, and there is no legal reason for the school to monitor the network for use of Napster.
"Be assured that Stanford does not condone copyright infringement and is mindful that the rapid development of technology poses challenging issues in this regard," the Stanford letter reads. "However, in the absence of any specific legal or factual basis for your demand, Stanford declines to limit access to Napster."
According to a spokeswoman, MIT recently sent King a similar letter.
UNC wrote to King recently, informing him that the university would not ban Napster, according to administrators.
"It's the university's policy not to block Web sites and such. We've taken steps to inform our students and faculty about copyright issues," said Jeanne Smythe, director of computing policy at UNC. "We expect the students to abide by the law, and if a copyright violation is brought to our attention, we do follow our acceptable use policy."