Boston. Many American students returning to classes this autumn have found that their universities are preventing them from downloading music from the internet.
Concerned that they will be sucked into the legal onslaught by the music industry against the controversial Napster website, at least a third of US universities have blocked access to the site.
The fear appears well founded. Eleven top universities this month received warnings from attorneys for the rock band Metallica and the rap artist Dr Dre that they are likely to be sued if they do not restrict access to the site.
Napster allows users to swap music over the internet. It has been sued for copyright infringement by the music industry. That potentially precedent-setting lawsuit named three universities - Yale, Indiana University and the University of California - but the universities were dropped from the suit in exchange for blocking student access to the Napster site.
Many other universities have also blocked Napster from their campus networks, according to a survey by a consulting firm. In most cases, they have said publicly that the programme tied up too much university equipment.
Napster, a beta programme released last year and created by a 19-year-old college student, transforms networked PCs, like those at colleges across the world, into "de facto" servers, allowing other Napster users to copy music files. Many students did not realise that when they used the conventional method of closing the programme, it remained active in the computer's toolbar and used up bandwidth. Universities banning Napster have estimated that the programme can tie up more than half their bandwidth.
But the legal concern is foremost. It intensified when Howard E. King, lawyer for Metallica and Dr Dre, this month sent threats of legal action to Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Boston, Virginia, Michigan and California universities, and to the Georgia and Massachusetts institutes of technology.
Mr King wrote: "I believe that you can easily recognise the irony of encouraging your students to matriculate in the creative arts, while engaging in behaviour that, if unchecked, will make it impossible for those students to earn an income from their future creative efforts."
The universities most recently threatened with legal action have continued to allow access to Napster. So have many other major universities, including Duke and the universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Officials at Harvard and other universities said that they were studying the issue and had yet to formulate their responses to the letter. But many indicated that they had better things to do than get into the middle of the fight between the music industry and the commercial Napster website.
One spin-off from the controversy is a website that seeks to reinstate the use of Napster at universities across the country. Savenapster.com was created by Chad Paulson in coordination with Students Against University Censorship. It calls for an open dialogue between school administrations and students concerning the responsibility that comes with using Napster.
Mr Paulson said: "The educational institutions involved were not consciously promoting piracy on campus, nor did they have anything to gain or profit from doing so.
"SAUC supports your suit against the end user and we would even like to extend our efforts in helping you fight piracy by exposing one unlawful Napster user at a time."