Napster: The End or the Beginning

As technology continues to grow and progress into the 21st century, the entire general public must adapt and participate. Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, Audio Galaxy, Gnutella, and companies like those listed previous have become revolutionary icons in the Internet music-era (public enemy #1 in some eyes). The primary focus of all the companies is Napster. They were the first to take the heat, and essentially set the precedent for all other companies to follow.

The growing demand for online music services has led the conglomerates that own the major record companies to create their own channels for distribution. AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann and EMI Group formed MusicNet, and Universal Music Group and Sony Corp. created Pressplay. (Healey, Jon). The plan with both of these is to create a market to make money, so that the bands on the labels are able to make money. However the main problem with this is that there is not a market for them to sell music on the Internet.

The reason is that with all the free music services on the Internet all a person has to do to get music from one of the numerous free music service such as Kaaza or one of its sister companies. Now that weve discussed the solutions, lets discuss the problem. Napster has since then become a major player and faced the cover of just about every major publication in the United States. It was involved in a court case in which six major record labels including Sony, BMG, and Universal were suing for copyright misuse.

Napster is the target of almost every major record label in the 21st century; do you think Napster and neighboring companies should stay afloat or forever perish; and is it morally right to create a web-based music medium that has no intent of forming profit and that in no way violates copyrights? Shawn Fanning, creator of Napster, invented Napsters music-sharing software last year, as a freshman at Bostons Northeastern University. Reared by his mother Colleen (39 and a nurses aid) and stepfather Raymond Verrier (39 and a truck driver), he nd his four younger half-siblings spent times on welfare in Brockton, Mass.

They shortly moved to Cape Cod, where Shawn was a straight-A student until, at age 16, he got a computer as a gift from uncle John Fanning (A high-tech entrepreneur). I dropped everything and became addicted, Shawn says, (People 73). He then headed to college to major in computer science. Bored in class, he set to work on a music-sharing program and put it on his web site in early 1999. Several colleges banned the site when its popularity overwhelmed their networks.

John Fanning, 37, wooed investors for the fledging company (it has raised $15 million so far, though it has no revenues), and last October it set up shop in Silicon Valley. On November 1 of 2000, Napster compiled a deal with Bertelsmann (BMG CEO). Under the deal, Bertelsmann will provide money for Napster to devise a way to charge a fee for its service and Bertelsmann may become a part owner. Part of the fee will be turned over to the recording companies, mirroring the current royalty system.

The deal does not resolve the legal challenge by the other recording companies, though they may follow along. Nor does it resolve the threat to copyright protections posed by other kinds of file-sharing services, like Gnutella, that do not create a Web site that provides a centralized index of available files and therefore present no single defendant for plaintiffs to challenge (NY Times). Protecting copyrights is important to the general public. File-sharing technologies threaten to remove the financial incentives that encourage musicians to compose, authors to write and newspapers to publish.

In the long run, unfettered distribution of copyrighted materials hurts everyone. Until Napster, the industry had an astonishingly successful run in preventing digital copying from taking place on a wide scale, like Minidisk, and recordable CDs for example. Every time any of the major labels announced an online initiative, it was always based around digital rights management schemes like SDMI, designed to make the experience of buying and playing digital files at least as inconvenient as physical albums and tapes. In this environment, Napster was a cold shower.

Napster demonstrated how easily and cheaply music could be distributed by people who did not have a vested interest in preserving inefficiency (Yahoo news). This in turn reduced the industry to calling music lovers “pirates” (even though Napster users weren’t in it for the money, surely the definition of piracy), or trying to “educate” us about why we should be happy to pay as much for downloaded files as for a CD. As long as the labels kept whining, Napster looked revolutionary, but once BMG finally faced the economic realities of online distribution and flat rate pricing, the obvious partner for the new era was Napster.

The BMG deal points to a future where you can subscribe to legal music from Napster for an attractive price, music that, as a bonus, won’t skip, end early, or be misindexed. Faced with the choice between shelling out five bucks a month for high quality legal access or mastering Gnutella, many music lovers will simply beg for the subscription. This will in turn reduce the number of copyright violators, making it easier for the industry to go after them, which will drive still more people to legal subscriptions, and so on.

For a moment there, as Napster’s usage went through the roof while the music industry spread insane propaganda about the impending collapse of all professional music making, one could imagine that the collective will of thirty million people looking for free Britney Spears songs constituted some sort of grass roots uprising against The Man (Yahoo News). As the BMG deal reverberates through the industry, it will become apparent that those Napster users were really just agitating for better prices.

In unleashing these economic effects, Napster has almost single-handedly dragged the music industry into the Internet age. Now the industry is repaying the favor by dragging Napster into the mainstream of the music business. In the topic of peer-to-peer sharing of music and other medias on the Internet, the whole topic is shrouded with many ethical debates. Such as, is it right to shut down the sites that provide the means for people to get their music off the Internet? Also, what is the record labels feelings?

One of the most important questions surrounding the topic is if it is even ethical for the sharing of music to even start? From the standpoints of people from the ages of fifteen to thirty, it is very ethical. This creates a method for the youth of today to get music (rare or common) in the most economical fashion. This is the major market the labels target, on the other hand the youth is technologically advanced and they are going to find the quickest way to find their music. However from the record labels point of view, the trading of music files on the Internet is unethical.

Record companies feel that they are losing money, due to the fact (in their eyes) that people downloading albums from the World Wide Web are taking away from their record sales. Maybe the World Wide Web wasnt meant to do this, but the Internet certainly was. Theres no clutter of the Web, its just people communicating straight with people, says Steven Griffen, chief executive office of Streamcast (Grumet 47). The new downloading program that a good part of the public is now using is called Morpheus; the company Streamcast runs this sharing program.

There are two major differences between Napster and Morpheus. The first is the setup of the system, Morpheus is not Napster. Yes, it is the same type of peer-to-peer network that lets you share files, but instead of using a centralized server, it hands out software that is advertiser-based, so users create a network of their own, (Grumet 47). Second unlike Napster, Streamcast gets its money from posting banners on their home web page, and also on the actual program. From the aspect of funding Morpheus all the companies pay Streamcast so the multitude of users will be able to see the companys advertisements.

BMG Music Club is one of Streamcasts largest players in the advertising side of the company. Now the ironic thing is that when Napster was being sued, BMG was one of the companies that headed the lawsuits. If people truly love music, they have to understand that this cant go on. Music cant be free, said by Sami Valkonen Vice President of BMG (Appleford 15). It seems that record labels dont really care about losing profit from record sales, this is evident through the contradictory actions the have made over the past year or two.

The labels could also look at peer-to-peer sharing as a positive output and input to the musical world. Small and large labels could look at the music-sharing business subjectively when looking at the entire business as a whole. Smaller labels that are always looking at new and fresh talent and can also use the business to find new bands from all over the World. Large labels could use the music sharing market to their advantage, due to the fact that when a label is looking at a band that label always wants to hear new music from the band.

By being involved with the Internet music sharing business they can stay up to date with the numerous bands all over the World they are investigating. Nevertheless, the bands already present on major record labels are not happy with the sharing of their music on the Internet. Many of the bands that have established themselves in the music world are the ones that are making the most turmoil to the music-sharing world, such as Metallica. These bands are creating problems for the simple reason that the artists feel that they are losing record sales in stores.

We have worked for most of our lives to get where we are, and its not fair to us for people on the Web to download one of our records instead of going to their local record store and buying the albums, Lars Ulrich (drummer from Metallica), (Appleford 15). There are also the bands that are for music sharing on the Internet. Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill went on a tour during the summer of 2000, which was titled The Napster Tour. These bands promoted the concert as a free show, and they stopped in almost every major city in the nation to pioneer a musical movement.

Their plan was to bring public awareness to the situation surrounding the music-sharing program Napster. My plan with the concert was to show that not all bands are in this just for the money, Fred Durst (front man for Limp Bizkit), (King). Limp Bizkit has only been in the music industry for several years, so in turn they are still somewhat new on the market in contrast to Metallica which is on the other end of the musical spectrum. Unknowingly to most, Durst is the Vice President of Interscope Records, which is one of the labels that fully supports downloadable music on the Web.

The Music industry has had some tough times, yet it never expected anything like this to end up in its lap. Something that is now facing music is the change to a more accessible way for the public to get their music. The most common way for the public to do this is peer-to-peer sharing of music files. This is a system that the youth of today has almost become accustomed to having around, so the endeavors by major labels to shut down these Internet programs/sites have been proven to be feeble attempts. You shut one Napster down, 10 more pop up in its placeeach more powerful than its predecessor, (Grumet 47).

Record sales from stores increased in the past year, so the labels that sued Napster are happy, however the downloading of medias from the Internet is more now than ever, thus their conquest to stop peer-to-peer sharing of music on the Internet failed. Not only has the record industry been changed by music sharing, retail outlets also have been affected. For the exception of the Virgin and Tower corporations there are no other record labels that have their own retail stores. As a result leaving all other labels out there selling their records to privately owned companies, such as Sam Goody and Wherehouse Music.

These stores rely partly on the sale of albums. Thus when Napster was shut down and record sales went up the stores were pleased, since they were making money again. The primary issue resides in the fact if the record labels are content, than this is a direct result of the rising record sales in a retail environment. Since record sales have been increasing in the past year and music-sharing sites have been growing on the Internet, this must be evidence to the labels that downloading music wont have as great of an impact on the profit margin as they seem to believe.

The peer-to-peer sharing of music through the Internet is a thing of the now and the future. The labels will either jump on the technological wave and break down barriers, or they will be stubborn and continue to slow the inevitable. The public will proceed in the direction that they are heading presently. If one program such as Napster gets shut down the public will find another way to find the media they desire one way or another. The Internet is for sharing, experiencing, and reaching out to others. That is what it was made for and that is where the future lies.

It is time to figure out how to work with these companies instead of wasting time and energy trying to shut them down. What Napster has done is revolutionary and vital to the future of our Internet music-swapping era. The ethical dilemma resides in the fact that it is not morally right to create a new medium for consumers to access free music when originally, the medium was the record store. These days, the record store is almost non-existent to those knowledgeable on the Internet and technology. Even though what these companies are doing is not classified as illegal, it is classified as un-ethical and unheard of.

We are all treading on new ground here and we are setting the precedent for the future of how we access and buy music, so as these companies assess the situation and build their conglomerates, the public will wait attentively and will continue to hack free music till the day they die. No one yet knows the ideal way to preserve copyright protection in the digital age. So the best course for now is to support copyright holders while leaving room for technological development, and that ladies and gentlemen is the platform to the future of our technological superhighway called The Internet.

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