By Barrett Neale
University of Richmond students can legally download free music from the Ruckus Network, which Information Services hopes will decrease violations of the Recording Industry of America's policies.
About two years ago, students began asking Information Services about the possibility of a free music downloading service for students, according to Kathy Monday, vice president for Information Services. She researched the possibilities, but she said at the time most companies were charging universities a fee for each student, which was too costly.
Balu Chandrasekaran, a senior, said he was a member of the Richmond College Student Government Association Senate for two and a half years, and for a year and a half he acted as vice president of student advocacy. In the spring of his sophomore year, he heard about other schools that provided free music for their students, and said he wanted to see if the University of Richmond could provide a similar service.
He first brought it up at a forum at The Pier with Len Goldberg, the former vice president for Student Development, President William Cooper and Provost June Aprille, and he said he continued to mention it at different times to different people. Although he understood the students' desire for affordable music, Chandrasekaran said he was concerned about the legal issues of sharing music.
He talked to Monday last fall and said this was something a lot of students wanted. She said she went to a conference for information technology professionals, conducted by an organization called EDUCAUSE.
According to its website, "EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology." It invited various software vendors to show their products, and Monday said representatives from the Ruckus Network announced that they were changing their licensing model. The only cost to the University of Richmond, she said, would be to buy a server and the time to administer it.
Steve Bisese, the vice president for student development, said the appeal of Ruckus was its affordability, the fact that it was voluntary, free for undergraduate students and could be instituted quickly. Although academics always come first, he said he believed that a certain part of the university's responsibility was to provide amenities to students that give them a time to relax.
Ruckus had a good record, and he said the only complaints were that it was incompatible with Apple products and the security issue of giving students' names and email addresses in order to create their student profile. Scott Tilghman, help desk manager, said Ruckus offered the widest range of music and had good reviews from other colleges.
It seemed to have the most opportunities for the future based on its potential and what it had already accomplished, he said. There weren't many competitors, but he said some of the competitors did have problems. Ruckus allowed the University of Richmond staff to test its product for free, and he said the browser was easy to use.
Students should take advantage of this opportunity to legally get free music, Tilghman said. Information Services researched the options, and he said they waited until it found services that had a good reputation and met as many student needs as possible.
Ruckus is tailored specifically to the needs of college students, Monday said. It is financed by advertisements, which she said allows its members to download songs for free. It is already partners with more than 100 schools, according to a Ruckus press release from Feb. 28, 2007.
There are more than 1.5 million songs in its library, and she said users could go to ruckus.com to create a profile, download the player and share music with other Ruckus users. The songs have a 30-day license that means they expire after 30 days, but she said the license renews each time the student connects to the internet.
The license renews even when the student is connecting to the internet offcampus, which she said means that even when students are gone for extended periods of time, such as winter or summer break, they can continue to play all of their Ruckus songs.
A Ruckus representative came to campus last semester to talk to Bisese, she said.
Monday and Bisese talked to student governments to assess whether it was a worthwhile investment, and she said despite the limitations the students seemed excited about it.
Each song has digital rights management (DRM) information, which is encryption software that legal download services use to ensure media files are not illegally shared, she said. Apple does not license its DRM technology to any company because it works solely with its own music service, iTunes, which she said means that students can't transfer the music to their iPods.
Additionally, students who use Mac computers cannot download the Ruckus player, and she said Information Services has no way to resolve that issue. But on the Ruckus site, it lists that if students with Mac computers run Windows XP or Parallels Software International Inc.'s Parallels Workstation, they can download the Ruckus player, she said.
Freshman Leigh Donahue has a Mac computer, and said she was disappointed to learn that she couldn't use Ruckus. "I thought it would be a good way to preview CDs," she said. "I went to sign up and went through the process and realized I couldn't get it."
One of the advantages of the university is that it supports a wide range of computer companies, Tilghman said, and the cost would have increased in order to get a music service that accommodated Macs as well. "Music downloading is not an academic purpose," he said.
He understood that students with Macs would like access to this service, but he said this was an extra service that the university was providing. If there was a method for delivering music that was inexpensive and included Macs, he said they would have chosen that instead.
Information Services received between 10 and 20 complaints a year from the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry of America about students downloading movies and music illegally, he said. The RIA has a certain number of students it intends to prosecute, he said, and it is happy if it catches students.
Even though it's tempting and easy to download music illegally, he said students should weight their odds. It's traumatic for Information Services to get letters from the RIA, he said, because of the severity of the laws involved.
Chris Faigle, security administrator, said the RIA can subpoena universities for information of students downloading illegally. "We are not a defense for the students," he said, and Information Services has an obligation to give that information to the RIA, even if it means that they will use it to sue students.
Freshman Dan Raimondi used to use a service called Ares, which he said allowed him to get free music to put on his iTunes. Certain songs are tagged by the RIA, and he said he unknowingly downloaded one of them.
The RIA called him, and he said he had to remove all the songs that he had gotten through Ares, and do 10 hours of community service at an off-campus site. "All my iTunes files got messed up," he said.
He had very little music to listen to without his iTunes, and said he often resorted to watching music videos on YouTube. When he got an e-mail from Bisese that Ruckus was available, he was happy because he knew it was legal, he said.
He signed up for it right away, and said within the first week he had already downloaded 600 songs. He has 1,800 songs now, and he said even though he is running out of songs to download, he still listens to the albums he has every day.
His favorite part about Ruckus is how easy it is to find songs and download them, and he said the quality was superior to what he got with Ares. He didn't like that certain songs on some albums aren't available, but he said he liked that it could do everything that other downloading services do.
Freshman Sarah Dinces does not have a Mac computer and could use Ruckus, but she said she prefered to use services that allowed her to put music on her iPod. "I think the idea is really cool," she said, "but why would I get music just to play it on my computer?"
Faigle said even though Ruckus was available to all college students, there were benefits students receive because the University of Richmond was one of Ruckus' partner schools. The proxy server that the University of Richmond purchased allows students to download songs at a faster speed, he said, and Ruckus' movie content is only available to students at partner schools.
Freshman Mike Albares said he used to get music using iTunes, and had to pay for his songs. He was excited when he heard about Ruckus, he said, because he could type in any song, get it for free and listen to it right away.
He uses it anytime he wants a song that he doesn't already have, and said it didn't bother him that he couldn't put the songs on iTunes. "I have my iTunes collection and my Ruckus collection," he said.
The selection of music could be better, but he said his favorite part about Ruckus was receiving e-mails about new music. "It's a young, new thing," he said. "They'll improve it."
Chandrasekaran said he liked Ruckus because it benefited everyone. The students got free music, schools could offer a great service at minimal cost, Ruckus got more business and artists got paid to have their music on Ruckus, he said.
He was impressed with its collection of music, and said he liked being able to download music from the 80s and 90s. One of the drawbacks he noted was that a student's music library does not transfer if he or she uses a different computer, but he said that laptops help that.
Doug West, University of Richmond's director of Telecom, Media Support and User Services, said an advantage of having Ruckus was that the university could manage the process of student music downloading. There will be information for incoming students about Ruckus in the booklet, "Making the Most of Your Richmond Education," that they receive in the summer, he said.
Bisese said that in addition to summer publications, there would be information about Ruckus at orientation. "Ruckus provides promotional services as part of their relationship with us," he said.
Students who have feedback about Ruckus should contact him because he wants to work on behalf of the students, but he said if they have questions about the technological aspects they should contact Information Services because they know how the system works.
Monday said that she would continue to inform students about updates with Ruckus through Spider Bytes. The dean's office, student government and word of mouth were other ways to spread news about Ruckus, she said.
Incoming students can register for Ruckus as soon as they have their e-mail address, she said. When the students graduate, they may continue to use Ruckus, but she said they must subscribe for a fee of $8.99 per month.
Chandrasekaran said he would probably continue to use Ruckus after he graduated in May because he didn't use his CD player and didn't want to pay a dollar per song with iTunes. The download speeds might be slower without the UR proxy server, but he said he would still use it.
Ruckus could be a way for the school to keep in touch with alumni, and he said that it might encourage alumni to give back to the university. He is excited about the possibility of getting free movies as part of the Ruckus service, he said.
Ruckus' movie agreement is with the MPAA, Tilghman said, and it would tell the University of Richmond if free movies became available. Chris Lawson, Ruckus' director for corporate development, said in an e-mail interview: "We have some long-standing relationships with media companies, and are forging new relationships all the time. Both should provide a lot of new and entertaining video content for our student users. We are working right now to make films, TV and other forms of video available to more students as soon as possible."
The video content would include Hollywood films, indie films, foreign films, current television shows, sports and music videos, and he said much of it would be supported by advertisements like the music service. Ruckus would let its users know when it becomes available, he said.