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The Napster Debate Essay

When I first heard the word Napster I had no idea what it was, I thought maybe it was a new insult phrase going around my high school. With time I figured out that Napster had to do with online music. I hadnt seen much coverage on TV and was curious, so I decided to surf the Internet and check it out. Once reaching the site I found no music for sale, no discography or lyrics as is common with most music sites online. Instead there was a program available for download that allowed user-to-user transferring of music files.

I went ahead and downloaded the program, not knowing that six months later Napster would have a tremendous influence and impact in the music industry, changing the way we view music forever. The Napster software, launched mid 1999, allows Internet users to share and download MP3 files directly from any computer connected to the Napster network. The software is used by downloading a client program from the Napster site and then connecting to the network through this software, which allows sharing (uploading and downloading) of MP3 files between all users connected to the network.

Napster doesnt own any MP3s, nor do people get MP3s through the server. It is strictly a go-between for user-to-user downloads (Gibney 1). An MP3 file is a type of compressed wave file. The advantage of MP3 files is that they are approximately one-tenth the size of the corresponding wave file and are very high quality. Many artists, record labels and other music industry stakeholders are concerned by the MP3 file format and applications because of the high quality and accessibility (Gibney 1). There are two types of MP3s available on Napster.

The first are legal MP3s that are authorized by artists to circulate on Napster for promotional purposes. These MP3s are often music selections made by up and coming artists trying to make their music more accessible to the public. The second type of MP3s are not authorized by artists. A Napster user with copyrighted CD material can create MP3s with their computer CD ROM drive. Then through Napsters software, the users homemade MP3 is available for trade ( MTV 1). Napster does not physically infringe any copyright laws, its users do.

It doesnt condone the use of illegal MP3s in any way, but at the same time there is no opportunity in the software to stop copyright infringement (Gelber 3). Unlike similar file-sharing applications (Gnutella, Freenet), Napster limits users to uploading/downloading of MP3 files only. Napster is also different than other applications like Gnutella and Freenet because of its central server design. There is one common forum room that users dial up to. In this room they can browse other users computers for their desired file through a search engine.

Gnutella and Freenet have no central server which means there is no controlling the content of the material. Instead users are able to bypass search engines and query others computers directly (Vogelstein 4). This design is much less structured than Napster, if someone asked the makers of Gnutella or Freenet to shut down their system they wouldnt be able to, the system is expanded through users computers much like the original web idea of the world wide web (Gale Group 1). Napsters format is much more user friendly than these options.

It also provides room for growth in the system to incorporate other aspects of music (ticket sales, chats, discography) with the file sharing aspect of Napster (Levy 1). The reaction from recording artists, record labels and other music industry players has been varied, but primarily anti-Napster. Not surprisingly, out of the millions of music transfers a day, not one penny is given back to the recording industry. Musicians want to be compensated for their art. One example of artists taking a stand against Napster is the band Metallica. Metallica brought the first suit brought against Napster to stop online sharing of their studio recordings.

In April of 2000, they sued Napster Inc for copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court when Napster agreed to ban some 317,000 users who had allegedly downloaded Metallica songs. More than 30,000 users of the ones Metallica blocked submitted statements that they were identified erroneously as infringing (Napsters 2). Again in June of 2000 Napster Inc was sued for copyright infringement by The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing the US recording industry, alleging, \”Napster is enabling and encouraging the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted music\”(Cohen 1).

Napster claims that they are protected under several copyright laws aimed at online companies to protect them from their users actions( Hellemann 5). The Legal Battle between the RIAA and Napster is set to hit the courtrooms in March of 2001; Napster must overcome three main legal points in order to win against the RIAA. They must prove that Napster is purely for non-commercial use, that the technology of Napster was designed for non-infringing uses, and Napster Inc is protected under law from their users actions (Gibney 2).

In 1992 the Audio Home Recording Act was put into place, saying that noncommercial copying of music is lawful, also non-commercial copying has long been recognized as fair use under common-law theories. So when Napsters users engage in non-commercial copying of music it doesnt constitute as infringement(Hellemann 2). RIAA argues that because of the large scale of the Internet the AHRA doesnt cover Napster. They say that congress at that time couldnt possibly contemplate copying of that scale (Napsters 2). The second legal issue that Napster has to face in its legal suit is whether or not it was made for non-infringing uses.

The recording industry charges that Napster is predominantly used for illegal MP3s that infringe copyrights; the technology is predominantly used for illegal uses. The Supreme Court ruling in the 1984 Sony v. Universal Studios decision stated that there did not have to be any actual substantial non-infringing uses, but that the technology merely had to be capable of substantial non-infringing uses. Napster states that sampling of music by users for personal use is a non-infringing use and under common law is allowed.

The RIAA will argue that Napster isnt covered under this because the sampling of songs is not a considerable enough non-infringing use (Napsters 1). The third point Napster must use in its defense is in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA is a set of laws put forth to protect a service provider if their users are engaged of unlawful activity. It also says that a service provider like Napster has no duty to monitor or seek facts showing infringing activities with out claim of infringement from the copyright holder. Napster argues that this law covers them; they have no way to tell if a users MP3 is infringing copyrights.

In the Metallica suit an Internet sleuth named NetPD searched for copyright infringements of Metallicas material among the Napster users. They erroneously accused over 30,000 users for infringement (Napsters 1). A respected Internet sleuth company couldnt successfully name people who infringe one bands material. With current technology it would be next to impossible for Napster to monitor every artists copyrights. The RIAA on the other hand says that if you know your users are engaging in some copyright infringement, you cant take advantage of the DMCA.

Napster knows that its users are breaking the law, the RIAA argues that Napster has an obligation to copyright holders to monitor the activity if they know users are breaking it (Cohen 1). Napster argues that the reason the law was created was to protect companies from actions of their users, even if they know that they violate laws (Hellemann 5). Napster does challenge the traditional distribution of music (CDs, cassettes, vinyl etc) but whether this should be viewed as a threat or simply a new medium to be exploited by the music industry is another issue.

Many Artists have started to embrace the new technology also. On their website, the Offspring says \”MP3 technology and programs such as Napster. . . . [are] a vital and necessary means to promote music and foster better relationships with our fans. \”(Gibney 3). Interestingly enough, the Offspring’s last album, Americana, was made available online illegally before commercially released, yet it is the band’s best-selling album to date( Gibney 3). The amount of artists authorizing Napster for distribution has also increased from 15,000 artists two months ago to 25,000 today (Hellemann 3).

Napsters free downloads arent exactly hurting the recording industry either, in 1999 the recording industries sales went up 3%, and in the first half of 2000 they were up 5% (Healey 1). Music industry players such as BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group), EMI, Sony and Universal are already launching efforts to take advantage of the opportunities the Internet offers.

These companies are launching their own MP3 sales and distribution services. The label MP3 distribution sites will exclusively distribute only one record label’s MP3s (such as e-muisic. m and Sony)( Healy 1). It might not be working with Napster specifically, but the fact that over $15 million has been invested in Napster Inc means that Napster will not die easily, with or without the help of the RIAA. The music industry’s response to Napster is similar to the response to the introduction of cassette tapes and VCRs. Both new technologies allowed people to record and duplicate copyrighted information and at the time; like Napster these new technologies were seen as threats to the respective industries.

Time has proven that tape recordings are no substitute for professional, commercial recordings, and that the VCR and tape recorder have halped to increase sales. The VCR helped to bring a whole new source of income in rental and home video sales for the motion picture industry (Hellemann 4). The same can be said for Napster; while the songs can be downloaded, it is hard to come by studio quality recordings, and complete albums are rare. Once an MP3 is downloaded, it can only be listened to on a computer or very expensive walkman-style devices for portable MP3 use.

CDs, on the other hand, are more portable – they can be easily listened to anywhere. Although MP3s can be written to CDs, the quality of the recording isnt anywhere near as good as the studio alternatives. The level of expertise required to do this also means that for most people it is easier to buy a commercial CD (Gibney 2). The ‘extras’ consumers get when they purchase commercial CDs also encourages people to buy CDs. Artwork, lyrics, pictures and other liner information make the purchase of a CD more valuable than just the music (Healey 2).

New advancements such as multimedia components for computers, including video footage, photos, games would encourage the purchase of CDs if included on more CDs. If CDs were released with better ‘extras’ and reduced prices, people would be more likely to purchase them. In this case, Napster could continue, serving it’s purpose as a ‘try before you buy’ application for the music industry (Gibney 3). The most probable course that has been suggested for Napster Inc is that they start to pays royalties to artists when their songs are downloaded; much like the radio pays artists when their songs are played (Hellemann 7).

It would be a positive move because it would mean that artists would receive fair compensation for their work. However, on the other hand, to support the enormous cost of such a move, Napster would either have to turn into a paid subscription service with a per download fee, or show advertising (which wouldn’t necessarily cover the costs). Added to this, the cost of modifying the application, and working out a way to determine what songs have been downloaded, the administration costs for Napster would skyrocket (Hellemann 6).

Another alternative is that Napster could work with the music industry to distribute certain sample tracks to the public. These tracks could be distributed royalty-free as promotion for the album, or Napster could agree to pay royalties (Volgelstein 3). A cooperative effort with the music industry has the advantage of being totally legal and stopping all conflicts between Napster and the RIAA. However, such a model would mean a great reduction in the number of songs available and would eliminate the ‘sharing’ aspect of the program (Gale Group 1).

Another solution being adopted by other similar information-sharing applications like Napster, Freenet and Gnutella is to make file transfers over the application anonymous. Adding to that, the fact that the central servers themselves do not have to contain any copyrighted files, tracking down users breaching copyright legislation will be incredibly difficult (Levy 1). Advantage of the anonymous peer-to-peer model is that if no corporation, individual or other entity claims ownership, no one can be sued. And because no files are stored on the central server, no copyright is being infringed there.

The disadvantage of this method, would be that Napster would still be breaking the law, and undoubtedly new legislation would be brought in and measures would be taken to stop the service. Furthermore, if Napster could not take credit officially for their software, then they could not profit from it, something they need to do, considering the investment in the company (Napsters 2) The last and optimal solution for Napsters dilemma is the possibility of a cable TV type payment. Users pay a certain monthly fee for all the downloaded music they wanted.

They could chat with their favorite artists, get first dibs on concert tickets, and browse possible downloads by genre. The new system would pay the artists their royalties and sell millions of older titles that at present are sitting in vaults because no stores will give them shelf space. This option has the advantages of cooperation between the music industry and Napster. Napster users will have the same type of service as they do now, with extras so they wont have to turn to no-fee options (Gnutella and Freenet).

Music companies will be able to use the Internet for sales of all their merchandise. If music companies can package a better experience people will pay for it (Volgelstien 3). In a recent survey of college students more than two thirds of the respondents would be willing to pay for a $20 dollar monthly fee of a similar service (Gale Group 1). Disadvantages of this solution are merely the plausibility of the record companies cooperating in such an effort. Napster is a valuable program and an indication of things to come with music.

However, in its current state, it will have a very hard time remaining legal, despite its arguments in the pending legal battle. The only way Napster will survive will be to change its service. Napster and the RIAA should make a joint effort to sell a better product. If they format the current service with monthly fees and advertising the RIAA and Napster may both profit from the service. Copyright issues will become non-existent with the change and at the same time Napster fans will have the same service they are using now with extras and better searching capabilities.

It is really the only practical way that Napster can continue. Napster has a bumpy road ahead of them. In its pending legal battle, Napster has many valid arguments against the RIAA, and may even win its lawsuit. Yet despite what legal wins or losses come from this, Napster needs to modify in order to survive. In working with the RIAA and its new stakeholder Bertlesmann, Napster will be able to survive into the future, making more music and different kinds of music available to people all over the globe.

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