The Napster Debate Essay, Research Paper
The Napster Debate
The Napster software (http://www.napster.com), established in May of 1999, allows Internet users to share and download MP3 files directly from any computer connected to the Napster network. The software downloads a client program from the Napster site and then connects to the network through the software. This allows sharing (uploading and downloading) of MP3 files between all users connected to the network. Napster also allows users to speak to one another by ways of instant messages, chat rooms, and Hot List user bookmarks. Napster does not condone copyright infringement, but leaves no opportunity in the software to stop this from happening. Napster also does not provide artists with royalties for their music. People can now download music for free in their own homes and artists can release their music themselves. This could mean the end of record labels and other associated companies, causing artists and record companies to worry. Napster challenges the music industry’s monopoly on distribution
Unlike similar file-sharing software such as Gnutella and Freenet, Napster limits users to uploading/downloading of MP3 files only. (http://gnutella.wego.com/) and (http://freenet.sourceforge.net/) MP3 files approximate one-tenth the size of the corresponding wave files and can be close to CD-quality. This reason causes many artists, record labels, and other music industry stakeholders to be concerned by MP3 file formats like Napster that simplify the sharing of copyrighted material.
Other file formats commonly used on the Internet do not seem to be a threat to the recording industry primarily due to the reduced quality of the recording. Real audio files have reduced sound quality, as compared to a radio, and usually stream over different protocols. This allows people to listen to songs without having to download the source files. Midi, another music file format, can be commonly found on the Internet. These files pose no threat to the music industry. The files send a set of instructions to the computer communicating which sounds to play, not recorded music since there is no way to duplicate vocal tracks. Use of the Midi format has decreased causing the software to become outdated.
The reaction from artists, record labels, and other music industries varies, although reactions have been primarily anti-Napster. The first action to be taken against Napster was by the band Metallica. (http://www.salon.com/tech/log/2000/05/10/napster_metallica/index.html) In April of 2000, Metallica sued Napster Inc. for copyright infringement. (http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/review/crh499.htm) Napster banned some 300,000 users who allegedly downloaded Metallica songs to settle the case out of court. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/11131.html) Napster Inc. was sued again in June 2000, for copyright infringement by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group representing the US recording industry. The RIAA alleged, “Napster is… enabling and encouraging the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted music”. (http://www.riaa.com/About- Who.cfm) Napster claims the Audio Home Recording Act permits copying of material for personal use, allowing users to exchange MP3’s. Napster further claims immunity by defining the company as an ISP under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/archive/11750.html) The RIAA unsuccessfully applied for an injunction to stop Napster’s operations until after the court case in September. (http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/tech/review/crh428.htm)
Other artists and record labels (http://www.napster.com/speakout/artists.html) and (http://www.napster.com/speakout/labels.html) have reacted to the advent of Napster and similar software in a positive way, embracing the new technology rather than rejecting it. On the Offspring’s website, the band said, “MP3 technology and programs such as Napster [are] a vital and necessary means to promote music and foster better relationships with our fans.” (http://www.offspring.com/napster.html) The Offspring’s last album, Americana, before commercial release became available illegally online, yet it is the band’s best-selling album to date. A number of surveys have proven that Napster users buy more CDs after sampling songs online (http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/1/12093.html). This issue builds the core of the RIAA lawsuit, whether or not Napster and similar applications will mean reduced CD sales. Napster does challenge the traditional distribution of music, but whether this should be viewed as a threat or a new medium the music industry can exploit creates another issue. Some record labels, notably Epitaph (http://www.epitaph.com), partnered with sites like e-music.com to sell full albums and single songs in MP3 format over the web. In this case, the record company gained a new distribution method rather than seeing it as the “enemy”. The record company still gets a cut of the profits, while the artists’ whose songs are downloaded through Napster don’t.
Napster creates a free and convenient way to get music compared to visiting record stores, making it appealing. Napster also facilitates international distribution for unsigned artists, threatening record labels. Previously, without being signed to a record label an artist could not get the exposure to make a living as a musician. The Internet allows sites like mp3.com and Napster to aid struggling artists.
The music industry’s response to Napster compares to the response to the introduction of cassette and VHS tapes. The technologies allowed people to record and duplicate copyrighted information, and at the time these were seen as threats to the respective industries. Time has proven that tape recordings are no substitute for professional, commercial recordings. The same can be said for Napster. Songs can be downloaded but do not produce CD quality and complete albums can rarely be found on Napster. After downloading an MP3 it can only be listened to on a computer or a walkman-style device, such as RIO. Compact discs can be listened to almost anywhere; on a computer, stereo, Walkman, car, and etc. MP3’s can be written to compact discs but the level of expertise required to create a CD’s results in it being easier to buy a commercial CD.
When a consumer purchases a CD, they receive extras such as artwork, lyrics, pictures and other liner information, making the CD more valuable. New advancements in multimedia components for computers allow video footage, photos, games, and etc., to be included on the CD. Just as people still purchase and rent videos even though they can record movies from TV, people will continue to buy CDs, encouraged more if prices are reduced and extras given away with the music. Then Napster could be seen as a “try before you buy” application for the music industry not an enemy.
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