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To Download or Not to Download - Revised!!!

Oct 08, 1999 2096 Words
The Internet is an extremely useful resource. Using it, one can obtain information on nearly any topic. A relatively new item of Internet technology for sharing music has emerged and brought with it, countless legal debates: Napster. Napster allows people to share music files, discover new artists, and become part of the online-music community. Although Napster's opponents argue that sharing music files is immoral and should cease immediately, the positive elements that Napster brings to the Internet overshadow any regret for its use.

Marc Geiger, executive of "Artist Direct," an online music-marketing firm and Napster champion, states, "Napster is totally community oriented. It brings artists and fans together, and can allow struggling musicians a chance to be heard; that's what the program is all about. The more people hear the songs, the more they want {to} buy the CD" (Sullivan). Struggling musicians who do not receive widespread media coverage to enhance their own album sales find Napster invaluable (Sullivan). These avid Napster supporters can use the medium to distribute and publicize their music with literally no cost (Sullivan). Richardson, CEO of Napster, Inc., is promoting the good side of the software, and trying to make upset artists understand that this program is for the little guys (Sullivan). Richardson maintains that Napster will not hinder music sales, but will have an opposite effect (Sullivan).

Napster is an MP3 file-sharing program that enables users to share their music with one another. Anyone with a computer can download the program, sign the user agreement contract and then start swapping music. The program includes chat features, top music sharing lists, search capabilities, charts showing the status of the file transfer, and other assisting utilities (Allen). The chat rooms allow users to converse and exchange information with other people "in" the room (Allen). The search feature allows the music consumer to search by song title, artist, along with a myriad of other variables. The file transfer element of the program allows listeners to manage file downloads (files which they are receiving) and uploads (files which others are copying) (Allen). Napster also includes a "library," a utility for sorting and listing music files stored on a given computer (Allen). Napster users can also listen to their newly downloaded files with Naptster's built in mp3-player (Allen). The program is easy to use and does not contain too much technical jargon (Allen).

A Northeastern student named Shawn Fanning developed Napster in his college dorm room to share ideas and music with his friends. He wanted to be able to play his friends' music without having to constantly borrow their CDs and cassettes (Allen). Napster allowed him to do just that (Sullivan). The program that Fanning developed allows users to transfer easily MP3 music files from one computer hard drive to the next. An MP3 file is simply a compressed version of a file found on a common compact disc. MP stands for MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group), the developers of the compression technology, and three refers to the number of audio layers (Allen). "MP3 files are about one-tenth the size of uncompressed audio files" (Allen). One minute of mp3-compressed music consumes roughly one megabyte (1024 kilobytes) of memory with MP3 compression; uncompressed, the same one-minute would take up to ten times that amount of memory on the computers hard drive (Allen).

The bad rap that Napster has built up is due to allegedly "pirated MP3 files" and the outcry of major recording artists. David Weekly, the Napster's audio consultant said, "this is a really awful move on the RIAA's [(Recording Industry Association of America)] part. If what they're trying to do is prevent programs like Napster from coming out, they backfired and gave every teenage hacker the incentive to write their own [program]" (Sullivan). Weekly emphasizes that any media attention is good attention (Sullivan). Due to Napster's success, a number of other music file sharing venues have gained recognition for distributing "pirated" files:,, Launch Media, Scour, and VNN to name only a few (Sullivan). Dave Goldberg, the CEO of Launch Media, said, "there's going to be lots of different ways to get pirated music, [Napster] is just a different way,"(Sullivan). Some other ways to acquire pirated music are recording off the radio or "ripping" and encoding CD music files to produce MP3s. The latter is the method used to manufacture the vast majority of MP3 files in circulation (Allen). However, Napster adversaries attest that Napster alone promotes of music piracy over the Internet (Huffstutter).

This program is a little more than a year old and causing controversy because of copyright infringement laws. Contributory copyright infringement, for which Napster is being sued for by the RIAA, is solely the user's fault. "The software user agreement says that ‘copying or distributing unauthorized MP3 files may violate United States and foreign copyright laws. Compliance with the copyright law remains your responsibility" (Sullivan); this statement is a direct transcription of Napster's user contract (Sullivan). The user must read and comply with the terms of the contract, before he or she can begin using Napster. This contract implies that the downloader of illegal files is he who should be sued for copyright infringement, not the program makers. "The downloading of any copyrighted music from the Web without permission—even for one-time or personal use—is illegal" (France). The penalty for "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement" is up to $100,000 for each song that was downloaded using Napster (France).

The RIAA has not produced any viable statistics, only statements and claims (Dyson). Besides, Napster is principally used to sample artists and/or songs, if a user likes the sample then he will buy the CD or Cassette. "‘Word of Web' is infinitely more efficient that word of mouth" (Dyson). Many songs in the Napster community are of unsigned bands that need the free publicity. The problem with their free publicity is that there is no suitable regulation of it.

New bills have been introduced before the courts to try and distinguish what is legal or illegal to download. One such bill is the Digital Millennium Copyright act; this act states the accused Web sites cannot be sued for illegal activity, but it is legal to prosecute the user of the service (France). Also, under the same act, the Web site is required to police the information, which is being put on the site (France). Please note the use of the terminology' "Web site." Napster is trying to rebuttal this claim because it is not a Web site it is an Internet service provider (France). Another bill is the Music Owners' Listening Rights Act of 2000, which ensures the "users' rights to access the music they lawfully own via the Internet at any time from any place," (The House of Representatives of The United States of America/No Author). This bill protects music listeners from the legal threats of recording industries. It also guarantees the advancement of technology instead of its punishment.

As the American justice system tries to crackdown on the "piracy," it makes threats towards everyone using the Internet (France). Napster's attorneys said that this program could be used as an Internet service provider because it provides access for many people via a few lines of high-speed service (France). Using this claim, Napster has been able to dodge the many assumptions by judges and media of the courts (France). "Copyright laws need to be reformed around a more flexible stance to prepare for the wave of things to come. There's no crime in listening to music you already have," (The House of Representatives of The United States of America/No Author). The Internet is new territory for many people, and raises many issues for the justice system. New laws have to be created in order to keep everyone happy (Sullivan). Napster authorities have also claimed that the program is merely a music player and provider. A California judge ruled that the MP3 player, which is part of Napster, "isn't subject to government restriction" (Sullivan). The Mp3 player, to which the judge referred, is contained within the "library" section of the program (Allen).

The Napster court case is similar to the case between Sony and Universal Studios. In 1984 The Sony Corporation was sued because it developed VCR's (Videocassette Recorders) (Huffstutter). Universal Studios made a case, arguing that consumers of VCR's could tape movies or programs and were accountable for copyright infringement. The deciding result of the Supreme Court was the VCR had a considerable amount of "non-infringing uses" (Huffstutter). The VCR was mainly used to play rented videos or home videos rather than to make pirated ones. Napster's court case is extremely similar to Sony v. Universal Studios, in that both cases deal with copyright infringement of recorded media. When the courts reach a verdict, they will found it on the same basis as they did in Sony v. Universal Studios. "It won't stop the technology" because it's already out there (Philips and Huffstutter). "It's impossible to kill the software" and "it's pointless to try." (Philips and Huffstutter). Napster is not a device used to perpetuate piracy; it is a means by which artists can legally distribute their music.

Napster may be forced to regulate the activities of its customers if copyright infringement accusations continue. As a result, the cost of downloading music would dramatically increase (France). This would defeat the purpose of Napster and return power to the recording industries, leaving innocent music lovers with no method of hearing new, unknown music or sampling music before purchasing it.

In abolishing Napster, the recording industry would be hurting itself. Artists should be able to produce, record, and distribute their own music, ridding the process of recording companies and middlemen. The question is whether the music industry has a business worth operating; if it does then it "needs to prove its value" (Dyson). Eliminating the record companies allows the artists to keep the exclusive rights of their songs instead of the industry owning the copyrights. If the artist were to produce the record on their own, people would "be less likely to [steal] when the person they would be stealing from is the artist" (Dyson). Artists would be getting paid directly by their fans for performances and albums, reducing the cost of CD's and tickets. Record companies are in a frenzy to abrogate MP3 use only to save themselves. However, even though the record companies suffer from Napster, the artists and music can potentially flourish. Music lovers should have the right to share music in the MP3 format. Napster offers a way to do just that. Napster enhances music and the music industry. Napster allows less-known artists to freely publicize their music, and it gives mainstream artists another medium by which to entice potential CD-buyers. "At a time when neither MTV nor radio has any interest in giving exposure to artists outside the mainstream, Napster has an amazing power: It brings music fans together [in a celebration] so they can turn one another on to artists," (Sullivan).

Works Cited

Allen Steven. "Go to Jail for Downloading?" (29 Nov. 2000).

Dyson, Esther. "Napster Forcing Music Industry to Change Its Money-Making Tune."

Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles. August 21,2000.

France, Mike. "This Lawsuit is Cranking Up the Volume over Mp3." Dec. 13, 1999. (29, Nov. 2000).

The House of Representatives of the United States of America/No Author. "EFF

Supports Music Owners' Rights Bill." Oct. 20, 2000. (22 Oct. 2000).

Huffstutter, P.J. "Napster Says Its Song-Sharing Service Is as Legal as a VCR." Los

Angeles Times, Los Angeles. July 4, 2000.

Allen, Steven. "MP3 Music: What it Is and How to Use It." (26 Nov. 2000).

Philips, Chuck and Huffstutter, P.J. "No Matter Napster's Fate, the Software Is Out

There." Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles. July 26, 2000.

Sullivan, Jennifer. "Napster: Music is for Sharing." Nov. 1, 1999.,1294,32151,00.html (29 Nov. 2000).

Sullivan, Jennifer. "RIAA Suing Upstart Startup." Nov. 15, 1999.,1294,32559,00.html (29 Nov. 2000).

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