Students in New York are to be offered free access to Napster's music subscription service.

Students – 3,700 of them – at the University of Rochester will soon be offered free access to Napster's Premium subscription service later this term, allowing them to stream and locally download an unlimited amount of music. Permanent downloads, which can be burned to CDs or transferred to mobile devices, will cost the students $0.99 a track, or $9.95 an album.

The university plans to pick up the tab for the service through the spring term – or second quarter – of 2005, and then decide whether it wants to dedicate further funding to expand the offer. The university has 8,460 students in total.

A university spokesman declined to say Thursday how much the school expected to pay for the service.

Napster has also agreed to work with the university's Eastman School of Music to develop ways for its students and faculty to distribute their original content on Napster's network.

Campus on download trend

The University of Rochester joins Pennsylvania State University, which entered a similar deal with Napster in November to offer the service to 18,000 of its students. Three days after the service launched in January, Penn Sate reported that students had made over 100,000 downloads or streaming audio requests.

Penn State's Napster service hasn't gone by without some student complaints that their tuition money could be used for better causes, however.

Both universities have said that the offerings are an attempt to educate students on how to legally enjoy digital music, as opposed to using illegal peer-to-peer (P-to-P) sites that do not reimburse artists for their content.

"We know that downloading is fast growing practice among college students and that our campus is no different than any other," said University of Rochester spokesman Robert Kraus.

It's all connected

Since the deal was just announced the university has not had a chance to receive very much feedback from students, Kraus said, but he does expect that some will question the use of funds. However, he said that the university believes that it needs to endorse action toward legal downloading.

Penn State president Graham Spanier serves as co-chairman, along with Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, of The Joint Committee of the Higher Education and Entertainment Communities. University of Rochester Provost Charles E. Phelps chairs a task force on technology for the national Joint Committee on Peer-to-Peer File Sharing, which counts representatives from the RIAA and Motion Picture Association of America as members.