Students will soon get the chance to download music legally for just $2.99 a month through a new University service.

The University has signed a contract with Cdigix, a Colorado-based provider of downloadable media, which will provide students with a database of 1.2 million songs from more than 100,000 artists representing all the major record labels.

The service, which the University aims to launch at the beginning of the winter semester, will also create an online library from which professors can take videos to use in teaching their classes.

The new service will provide students with an affordable and legal alternative to music download sites like Kazaa, albeit with limitations on how they can use the downloaded materials.

Earlier in the year, the Recording Industry Association of America subpoenaed the names of eight students and one faculty member suspected of file-sharing, and the University handed the names over in May. Fines for illegal file-sharing can range from $750 to $150,000 per song, depending on the number of songs shared.

LSA sophomore Joe Zanger-Nadis said the University should be providing its students with a downloading service.

“Since the University cooperated with the Department of Justice by providing names of students (who downloaded music illegally), they should provide a legal alternative. After all, students will still download music, and I think this new service will help reduce illegal downloads. I would pay for this,” Zanger-Nadis said.

Cdigix aims to provide affordable digital media resources to college campuses, and it is currently in use at 14 other schools, including Yale and Purdue universities. The company will provide three services — Ctrax, a song database, Cflix, an on-demand video service for an additional $9.99 a month and Clabs, which will allow faculty to upload video and audio files for use as course material. To ensure optimal download speed, the company will install a server on campus to cope with the demand.

James Hilton, associate provost for academic, informational and instructional technology affairs, said Clabs is the main reason why the University decided to sign the deal.

“Think of it as electronic reserves for film and video material. Faculty will be able to select material for their classes and have it available to their students via the network,” Hilton said.

This means students will be able to download and view videos at their own convenience, instead of borrowing limited videos from the library, he said.

This service will be provided free to any student signed up for classes which utilize Clabs, and it will be made accessible through Coursetools. The course material can be viewed on Windows Media Player on both PCs and Macs. Under the current deal, faculty members can upload up to 1,200 hours of source material per term.

Unlike other schools like Penn State University, which used students’ fees to pay an undisclosed sum for Napster’s music download service, Hilton said the University of Michigan was careful in keeping the educational and entertainment aspects of Cdigix separate.

“My focus is to improve the educational level in the college by getting rich media into the classroom. Students can choose to pay for the entertainment service,” he said.

Students can sign up for Ctrax and and Cflix at www.cdigix.com, and payments are made via credit card. Although this is an opt-in service, Cdigix President Brett Goldberg said he is confident student response will be positive.

“Our catalog is huge and the price is great. For the price of a latte, you can get access to over a million songs,” Goldberg said. “(The University) is our largest campus to date, and we are eager to get started.”

He cited the example of Napster, which provides a similar download service at $10 a month.

Like Napster, Ctrax allows users to get music through tethered downloads, which means the music stays on the user’s hard drive and cannot be transferred to another file. The files can be played on Windows Media or Real Network players on PCs only. Ctrax users then have the option of buying individual tracks at 89 cents each.

Goldberg said students should not worry about losing access to their catalog of music once they leave school.

“We have put together a plan with another established company that will allow users to keep their music and become a subscriber of that partner company,” he said, adding that the program’s details will be announced in a couple weeks.

For now, Zanger-Nadis said he is just relieved to know the University is addressing the problem of illegal downloads. “I like it that the University and a lot of musicians are coming around to the idea of Internet as a form of music distribution. It is good that people are acknowledging the problem and finding solutions to it,” he said.

 

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