The following response was sent September 26, 2000 to Howard E. King, Esq., at King, Purtich, Holmes, Paterno & Berliner, LLP, in Los Angeles in regard to Napster.

On Access to Napster

Dear Mr. King:

We have had an opportunity to review your letter of September 8, 2000, and to consider your request that the University of Pennsylvania ban access by its community to the Napster Internet site.

First, let me assure you that as an academic institution whose members regularly both produce and use copyrighted materials, we fully understand and take seriously our obligation to carry out our teaching, research and other activities in a manner that respects the intellectual property rights of others. Our policies prohibit the use of the University's electronic resources to intentionally infringe intellectual property rights, and the University investigates and takes appropriate action when allegations of specific infringement are brought to our attention. We will continue to do so.

At the same time, we believe that free inquiry and expression are absolutely essential to carrying out our educational and research missions. We are therefore deeply committed to protecting the ability of our community members to employ traditional and emerging technologies for these purposes, consistent with the requirements of law. In keeping with this commitment, we provide broad access to the Internet and its resources, and have not undertaken to restrict access to any site based on its content.

In deciding whether to employ or regulate the use of technologies, whether they be copying machines, computers, the Internet, or applications such as Napster, the University's responsibility is at once to respect the legal rights of the creators of intellectual property, and to do so in ways that do not restrict legitimate uses of the technologies or hamper their development.

We find your request troubling because it asks us to impose a blanket ban on access not simply to specific unlawful material, but to a tool that facilitates access to a broad range of materials. You ask, in effect, for the University to impose a particularly blunt and overly broad form of censorship on all uses of the technology to address your concerns about its possible misuse. I am sure you can appreciate an educational institution's reluctance to collaborate in restricting access to all information available through an information sharing tool as a method of eliminating access to those that may not be properly available.

Consistent with the University's approach to a range of issues that implicate competing values, we believe it is more appropriate, and ultimately more effective, to educate members of our community about the legal rules and University policy regarding use of copyrighted materials, and to remind them that in using technologies we all have a responsibility to respect the legal rights of others.

This year the University conducted computer ethics training for incoming freshmen to promote responsible use of computing resources through discussion of scenarios involving issues such as electronic harassment and copyright infringement. We believe this and similar educational efforts are the right approach to addressing the potential misuse of technologies. Simply blocking access to Napster's site does little to instill the respect for the rights of copyright holders that is ultimately the greatest protection against infringement of those rights.

Finally, as you know, whether Napster in itself violates the rights of copyright holders remains an unresolved issue that is pending in the courts. Moreover, given the rapid pace of technology change, an effective ban may never be feasible and would likely require an ever escalating set of technical measures that would be fundamentally inconsistent with respect for our users' right of free inquiry.

Under these circumstances, we have concluded that it would be inappropriate for the University to impose a ban on access by the University community to Napster.


Judith Rodin

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 6, October 3, 2000

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