All is quiet at Concordia

Concordia students will no longer be able to download free music from Ruckus, an online music service geared toward college students as a legal alternative to piracy. The site has ceased its operation.

Bruce Vieweg, associate vice president for academic affairs and chief information officer, sent out an e-mail to all students the morning of Feb. 9 stating that Ruckus, “our less-than-perfect free music service,” has shutdown without any notification or communication prior to the decision. “We were flatfooted and blindsided by that one,” Vieweg said.

Concordia isn’t the only school left scratching their heads. Vieweg noted that hundreds of schools were taken aback by the sudden closure, including Penn State who had invested heavily in Ruckus. Vieweg said Concordia will be reviewing the options and he will do his best to keep everyone informed.

“We don’t think there is another free service, but we’re going to be digging,” he said.

As of Feb. 6, the Ruckus Web site has been blank other than the message “Unfortunately, the Ruckus service will no longer be provided. Thanks.”

Ruckus used to be a way for students to obtain free music legally on campus. Students who used it as a primary source for music will undoubtedly feel the loss of the service. However, Ruckus’ Facebook application did post a notice on social networking site.

“Ruckus had to shut down the party due to over crowdedness. Please rock out to some music and we’ll get the party going again shortly,” according to the Web site

It doesn’t look like Ruckus will be making a comeback anytime soon though. Last year, Ruckus was acquired by Total Music, which is a joint venture by Sony BMG and Universal Music Group (UMG). Total Music was an experimental music initiative to “rethink the way music was streamed on the web.” One of the programs born from this idea was Ruckus. The other was an application to provide a music service on Facebook which was eventually denied by Facebook executives, allegedly for being unwilling to share user data and revenue. Speculation looms whether it’s the tough economy or incompetent leadership that led to the demise of Ruckus; in any case, Total Music has gone under, taking its child Ruckus with it.

After the shutdown of Ruckus and a round of layoffs at Total Music that included senior personnel, “The Washington Post” has confirmed that Jason Herskowitz, the company’s vice president of product management, said “in what will likely be the most official statement we get” the music labels Sony BMG and UMG have indeed pulled the plug on Total Music. Post reporter Jason Kincaid’s attempts to contact Ruckus CEO Michael Bebel have gone unanswered.
Total Music and Ruckus are dead, and similar service Cdigix also closed at the end of December. But Kincaid suspects that the record companies may come together once again in the future.”The music industry is desperately in need of innovation, and it sounds like the initiative was making some progress,” he said. “Even if it wasn’t quite tangible yet.”

A few students are disappointed by the unexpected loss of Ruckus. Sophomore Julie Guggemos used Ruckus every week.

“It had all my recent music on it,” Guggemos said.

Junior Ross Uglem also used Ruckus frequently, especially when the service was first made available to Concordia students.

“I’m a little upset because it was something the college paid for for us,” he said. “It was a perk.”

Now, Uglem is going back to iTunes, which he already utilizes because “Ruckus songs couldn’t go on iPods or CDs.” Guggemos is trying to decide between buying CDs or using iTunes as well.

The Ruckus Web site and player had both pros and cons. As Uglem cited, although Ruckus music was free and legal, students could not transfer the digitally protected files to an external MP3 player like an iPod. You could pay a fee to transfer the protected files, but only to an extremely limited list of compatible players. Ruckus has also been criticized for being ad and popup ridden and only working on Windows operating systems. Additionally, users had to renew licenses of downloaded music every three weeks because of the digital-rights-management (DRM) protections.

Sophomore Evan Balko isn’t really surprised by the shutdown of Ruckus. DRM has been a constant issue with music services, especially free ones. According to Balko, DRM is the main downfall of these music services because its presence leads people to pirate unprotected music from peer-to-peer networks.
“Consumers do not like being told what they can and cannot do with their media,” Balko said.

Balko echoes Kincaid that while Ruckus had the right idea, they just didn’t quite get it.

“Ruckus shutting down is a disappointment,” he said, “because of all the potential Ruckus had but was wasted.”

Balko says the concept of a free, ad supported music service is a good idea, but has yet to be implemented correctly. He suggests a free, ad supported service without DRM and believes that licensing music can make big money for the music labels when it’s done right.

“A large library of music and no DRM could very well result in that service being extremely popular, and the large amounts of people surfing and downloading music will attract advertising agencies,” he said. “Bringing in large advertising revenue to whoever runs the service and resulting in profits of off free music.”

Concordia has to be digging for a new service, whether it’s DRM free or not, because colleges are required by The Higher Education Act to offer alternatives to illegal music downloading, along with informing students of institutional and criminal penalties for unauthorized file sharing and combating copyright violations with technology-based deterrents. However, according to reporter Sara Lipka of “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” these requirements “are simultaneously strict and vague.”

The U.S. Department of Education will begin crafting regulations that specify strategies this month. According to Lipka, that prospect is making some campus officials wonder if plans they have already invested in will pass muster. But most colleges are already implementing the act, said Steven L. Worona, director of policy and networking programs for the college-technology group Educause in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” article.

“To a large extent, the Higher Education Act codifies what colleges are doing already,” he said.

Students like Guggemos will have to wait and see if Concordia can turn up a new music service for students to turn to after the closure of Ruckus.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Guggemos said. “I don’t know; I sat down to listen to music and it wasn’t there.”

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