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 we’ve discussed the solutions, let’s 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 Napster’s music-sharing software last year, as a freshman at Boston’s Northeastern University. Reared by his mother Colleen (39 and a nurses aid) and stepfather Raymond Verrier (39 and a truck driver), he

and 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.