Napster, the brain child of college student Shawn Fanning, is a web-company which offered it’s users a web interface upon which they could upload tunes, from their hard drives onto the site, and download the tunes others had posted in the form of MP3 files. Essentially the site was a huge music library that only grew larger and became more eclectic with time.
Fearful of the consequences such a site might result in and unimpressed by lobbying efforts in Washington, the U.S.’ biggest music producers and distributors rallied together under the moniker, ‘Recording Industry Association of America’ in an attempt to get the site shut down. It was under this blanket representation that the companies formally brought Mr. Fanning’s circa-1999 company to court in an attempt to put an end to the free exchange and distribution of music. They were of the opinion that free distribution was putting a crimp in their profits and robbing artists of valuable royalties.
Sales booming despite piracy
There is no doubt that people were indeed downloading loads of free music from the Napster web site and burning it onto their proper CDs at home. However, during the course of the Napster proceeding, music sales actually rose despite the large number of people who had taken up the habit of sampling or pirating music for free.
Did this have anything to do with the new born ease people had to sample more music and see if they were interested in it before heading out to the closest music store? Perhaps.
Although I am not big on purchasing CDs (it’s been years) I was recently informed by a CD aficionado of sorts, that the reason people take the time to purchase CDs these days is that they want to buy an experience. The analysis went further, suggesting that part of the experience of purchasing an album one likes, is to feel the CD jacket in ones hands, read the lyrics and liner notes and have the pleasure of seeing the accompanying graphics. Whether or not all those who own CDs share this feeling of having experienced a CD everytime they purchase a new one is questionable.
What about the others?
Regardless, the problem with the Napster ruling is that Napster is one web site in one place. A quick search on the net earlier this week turned up five similar sites, offering free downloads to interested surfers. By shutting down one web-based U.S. site, the Recording Industry Association of America, should not feel relief when many similar sites currently exist and will certainly continue to pop up. Furthermore, several fairly new programs are now circulating the net which enable users to swap files, like MP3’s, from their desktops without even having to visit a host web site.
There seem to be enough similar sites and programs in cyberspace already, that a court ruling against Napster hardly seems fruitful. The recording companies seem to be pleased to have thrown a sponge into an ocean, attempting to collect more water then they can soak up.
The larger conundrum of cracking down on all the ways in which people acquire free music over the net seems an untenable goal.
How, for instance, is one to crack down on a web site in a foreign country let alone track down who on the net is using software which may enable them to freely interchange of copyrighted materials. The answers are unclear.
Some have suggested that host web-sites offering freebies like MP3 tracks charge a membership or user fee, as an increasing number of popular pornographic web sites currently do. The logic behind this being that collected funds could then be redistributed to the artists or those to whom the copyrights belong, in the form of royalties. Mind you, it would be no easy task to reach an agreement about what such fees should be and how they should be applied when such a large collective of talents and works, like those which Napster once offered its visitors, are expected to be found under one umbrella site.
U.S. companies not the only ones who are concerned:
-The European Union is moving towards adoption of a copyright directive that would bolster laws about the pirating of copyrighted materials from the Internet. The directive is expected to pass through the European Parliament early this year and be adopted by the 15 EU governments.
-The international legal framework for the on-line music industry was provided in the WIPO Treaties concluded by more than 100 countries in Geneva in 1996. 30 countries need to ratify the treaties for them to come into force. So far around 20 have ratified.
-Independent researchers at Forrester Research estimate that there were 3 million downloads of pirated music a day in 1999.
-According to IFPI (The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) estimates 15,000 illegal sites hosting 3 million music files were shut down last year last year.
-“Napster: It is the future, in my opinion. That’s the way music is going to be communicated around the world. The most important thing now is to embrace it.” – Dave Matthews (found on the Napster web site)