COLUMBIA -- College students, the defenders of free T-shirts and free speech, have chalked up another victory: free music.
More than 40,000 University of South Carolina students heading to school this weekend will be able to download more than 2.8 million songs to their computers at no cost thanks to a new agreement between the university and Ruckus online music.
USC joins 119 other colleges in its agreement with Ruckus. The company makes its money from online advertisements and charges students $20 a semester for the ability to transfer unlimited songs to a portable music player after they've downloaded them to a computer.
"Downloading is free," said Kimberly South, public information coordinator for USC's technology services. "Transferring is not."
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In January, the Recording Industry Association of America named USC as one of the top universities for illegally downloaded music.
At that time, the association sent the university 914 notices of copyright infringement for the school year. Clemson received 71.
In response, USC began negotiations with Ruckus, tightened its Internet policies and discussed music piracy issues at new student orientation meetings this summer, said Bill Hogue, USC's chief information officer.
Since February, the university has received no notices of copyright violations, he said.
"We've gone from being on a list of notorious universities to being model citizens," Hogue said.
More than 5,000 USC students have started using Ruckus, which became available in June after the spring semester. Students have downloaded more than 1.4 million songs.
One drawback to USC's no-cost partnership with Ruckus, though, is music downloads aren't available to Macintosh computer owners -- 15 percent of students in 2006.
South said some Mac users are disappointed, but many already use iTunes to buy digital music.
Parents are happy to hear their students have a free, legal way to listen to music, South said.
USC's 5 most downloaded songs
• "What I've Done" Linkin Park
• "The Way I Are" Timbaland
• "Big Girls Don't Cry" Fergie
• "Thnks fr th Mmrs" Fall Out Boy
• "Beautiful Girls" Sean Kingston
Downloads from the Ruckus music network June to Aug. 13