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A Moment of Silence for Napster

Akshay Patil

Friends, I ask for a moment of silence in memory of a dear friend crippled with a terminal disease.

The last few months have not been pretty. Just when recovery looked possible, new complications emerged to continue the suffering, and to further break the heart of 50 million friends.

I know many of you were close to Napster and I was too. We spent many nights together giving, taking, exploring; I think Napster helped open my ears to hear many things I might never have heard otherwise.

Napster’s dead. There may be a lifeless remnant that we try to use, but for all real intents and purposes, the Napster we once knew will probably never recover to its original glory. What’s sad is that there is no reason that Napster should have to die the ignoble death that seems imminent.

Is Napster illegal? Yes. In 1998, Congress passed the Digital Media Copyright Act (DMCA) under heavy lobbying by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). This act was the foundation of Judge Marilyn Patel’s ruling that Napster did in fact violate the law, and this I cannot argue against. According to the act, and the intent behind the act, Napster is illegal.

There is, however, a different argument; one that I present to you: that Napster should be legal. This is a very potent argument with many hidden aspects that must be explored. At the crux of this is that, in the current situation, there is nothing we can do but declare Napster, in its current form, illegal.

This is a painful admission, but there is no other choice. Should copyright laws not apply to the mp3 format? No. This would destroy copyright as we know it.

Creators need to have some control over their work; any other system would be ludicrous. That many artists do not own the rights to their own music is a sad fact, but unavoidable.

The lines are too blurred for many art forms to expand creative control into a legally binding sense. Who “makes” a movie? Should Fatboy Slim have all rights over his remix of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”? The answers vary, but the ability for someone to create and receive legal acknowledgment for their creation is integral.

There are those that argue that since Napster is a passive conduit of illegal materials, it should considered a legal object subject to illegal abuse, like a CD writer. This would be true, but because of the way the DMCA works, Napster does not qualify as a “safe harbor,” which would qualify it as a legal form of information exchange. Since I seriously doubt that Congress will modify the DMCA in order to legalize peer-to-peer exchange, we must come to one plausible path that must be followed: in order for Napster to exist, all musicians/artists need to agree to allow for their music to be shared over the Internet.

We’re all familiar with the study made by Jupiter Communications in July 2000, which reported that Napster users were 45 percent more likely to purchase music than non-users. Many reports have since been released supporting and contradicting these results. Many Napster supporters believe Jupiter’s figures and often attack the RIAA as being ignorant and business un-savvy in their attempts to bring down the file sharing community.

Statistics are a wonderful thing, but they must be taken with a grain of salt, especially when they seem counterintuitive. Those in the music industry are intelligent when they question results that say that people are willing to pay for a product when they can receive it for free.

When looking at these results, we must realize that there are people in this world that basically don’t listen to music. They never bought CDs and they’ve probably never heard of Napster. Those who do use Napster are often music lovers; they buy albums. Napster may actually reduce album purchasing by users, but Jupiter’s statistics only show that those who like music buy music.

Record sales have gone up, true; but once again, these figures cannot truly show the impact Napster has had on sales. There are countless individuals in the Internet community that boldly claim that they’ve never bought a CD since 1991, and they’ll be damned if they’ll buy one now. They may have a horribly wrong idea of how Napster should work, but they exist nonetheless.

Napster does encourage album buying through exposure to new artists -- I know it has for me -- but common sense and personal experiences demonstrate that as a whole, Napster’s overall impact on the record industry is a negative one.

What needs to change is the music industry. There is still a market for albums and CDs, but they can no longer be the primary source of income for musicians; not with the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing communities and the mp3 format. Instead, artists should earn their money through performances and licensing of their music. This is already a major source of in come for most artists; the music industry as a whole needs to recognize the shift in paradigm and accept the change.

Why doesn’t the RIAA embrace Napster? Simple: It isn’t worried about protecting artists; it’s worried about protecting itself. The RIAA makes money by distributing music to the masses; Napster still does this. Recording labels are still needed to some extent, in order to bring about the recording of the music in the first place, but there is no reason for them to be the vast corporations they are today, with a large amount of financial and legal control over the music they record. The legalization of Napster would not mean the end of music and musicians, but instead the end of the powerhouse we know as RIAA.

Napster should be legal. It should serve as a conduit between musicians and music-lovers. Even with mp3s, people still pay for albums and, more importantly, people still pay to see live performances. There is no reason why the existence of Napster and of successful artists should be mutually exclusive; if anything, they should enhance one another. Napster doesn’t deserve to die and there is hope that it may yet survive, but unless the music industry realizes the possibilities before them, the sad truth is that Napster’s martyrdom is the most likely outcome of its deadly affliction.