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The Napster Software

The Napster software (http://www. napster. com), launched early in 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 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. While Napster does not condone copyright infringement, there is no opportunity in the software to stop this, or for money to be paid to artists whose songs are being duplicated for free.

Unlike similar file-sharing applications, Napster limits users to uploading/downloading of MP3 files only. These files are compressed wave (. wav) files. The advantage of MP3 files is that they are approximately one-tenth the size of the corresponding . wav file and can be close to CD quality (Smith). For this reason that many artists are concerned with the MP3 file and applications like Napster that simplifies the sharing of copyrighted material. The reaction from artists, record labels and other music industry players has been different, but mostly anti-Napster. The first action to be taken against Napster was by the band Metallica.

In April 2000, they sued Napster Inc for copyright infringement (Brown). The case was settled out of court when Napster agreed to ban 300,000 users who had downloaded Metallica songs (Brown). Again in June Napster Inc was sued for copyright infringement by The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing the US recording industry, saying “Napster is enabling and encouraging the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted music”. Napster replied with “Audio Home Recording Act that permits copying of material for personal use allows its uses to swap MP3s.

Napster also defined the company as an ISP under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (RIAA). Other artists and record labels have responded in a good way towards Napster and similar programs, accepting the new technology rather than rejecting it (Napster). On their website, 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. ” Surprisingly, Offspring’s last album, Americana, was made available online illegally before commercially released, yet it is the band’s best-selling album to date.

Also, a number of surveys have proven that Napster users actually buy more CDs, after sampling the songs online (http://www. theregister. co. uk/content/1/12093. html). The problem at the center of RIAAs lawsuit is that Napster may in general lower total CD sales. Napster may challenge the normal distribution of music (CDs, cassettes etc) but should this be view as a threat or just new technology preparing to join the others. Some record labels like Epitaph have partnered with sites like e-music. com to sell full albums and single songs in MP3 format over the web (RIAA).

In this case, the record company has in fact found a new way to distribute, rather than seeing it as the enemy. Of course with this program the record company still gets part of the profits, were songs downloaded through Napster the companies do not get a cut. While Napster does allow music sharing to an extent that could ruin the retail music industry, stopping Napster will not stop all their problems. Record labels need to see this new technology not as a threat, but as a challenge. They need to come up with ideas to encourage people to buy CDs (multimedia components, attractive artwork, lyrics, picture books etc).

Perhaps if they offered better services to their signed artists, fewer artists would want to release their music themselves. Music companies like BMG (Bertelsmann Music Group), EMI, Sony and Universal are already have started their own programs to run against Napster and take advantage of the opportunities the Internet offers (Smith). Many of these companies are launching their own MP3 sales and distribution services, or offering subscriptions that allow registered users to download unlimited tracks for a period of time.

E-music. m already offers this type of service, including a monthly subscription service. There are a few solutions that could save Napster form is inevitable death. One solution that has been suggested is that Napster Inc pays money to artists when their songs are downloaded, similar to how the radio pays artists when their songs are played. Another solution is that Napster could work with the music industry to distribute certain sample tracks to the public. These tracks could be distributed free as promotion for the album, or Napster could agree to pay royalties.

Another solution being used by other similar information-sharing programs like Napster, Freenet and Gnutella is to make file transfers over the application anonymous. In this type of file sharing there in no central server, as more members sing-on with the program, it braches out to other members. Though the most positive move would have Napster paying money to artists whose songs are downloaded because it would mean that artists receive fair compensation for their work. However, to support such a transfer, Napster would either have to turn into a paid subscription service, or show advertising, which would most likely never cover the cost.

Also this would cause, money spent on the modifying of the downloaded program, and working out a way to determine what songs have been downloaded, the administration costs for Napster would skyrocket. The option of Napster and the music industry combining has the advantage of being totally legal and stopping all conflicts between Napster and the RIAA. However, this would mean a great reduction in the number of songs available and would stop the sharing of the program. The advantage of the anonymous user-to-user program is that if no individual or company claims ownership, no one can be sued.

And because no files are stored on the central server, no copyright is being infringed there (RIAA). The disadvantage of this method would be that Napster would still be breaking the law, and most likely new laws would be brought in and measures would be taken to stop the service. Also, 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) I believe that Napster is a valuable program and an indication of things to come.

However, in its current state, it will have a very hard time remaining legal. I believe the only way Napster will survive will be to change its service because what the courts will force on it in the near future. I would suggest that Napster develops some system of paying money to artists whose songs are downloaded over their software. It is really the only practical way that Napster can continue and even though it will cost the company a lot to start this system, it will mean that Napster will be safe from being hassled by the music industry.

It will mean that Napster users will no longer have to worry that they are breaking the law, and will encourage artists to accept online distribution. I would recommend that Napster lower the cost of the payments by showing advertising within its program much like GetRight (http://www. getright. com/) and CuteFTP (http://www. cuteftp. com) do. This advertising could be used by Napster to target future artist and songwriters, meaning increased revenue for Napster. I believe that if the artist payment option, and lowering cost by advertising is used, Napster will be able to continue safely and profitably.

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