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Welcome to the 21st Century: The Napster Controversy
Author: netwebly | Updated 12.26.2000 Master Napster

The Beginning
The impact of this simple little program with a funny-sounding name has been dramatic. Almost overnight, Napster has made file-sharing front page news and the company has become one of the biggest players in cyberspace.

Invented by a college student from Boston named Shawn Fanning who thought it would be nice if there was a better way to find and share MP3s with his friends, Napster turned out to be the biggest thing to hit the Net in years. It wasn't long before Fanning's program was being used by Net savvy college students all over the world to trade MP3s. People had been talking about and listening to mp3 files for years, but it wasn't until Napster that digital music exploded.

Stunning Growth Rate
Napster use has grown at a rate unequaled by any program since the original Netscape inspired the explosive growth of the World Wide Web. Napster has stirred widespread interest in digital music and accelerated the spread of a huge pool of MP3 files, both legal and illegal, now estimated to number in the billions.

By the opening of the second round of the trial between the recording industry and Napster in the first week of October, Webnoize was reporting that the Napster site was getting nearly a million visits a day, meaning nearly a million people a day were visiting the Napster site to download the company's software, visit discussion areas and bone up on the latest lawsuit news.

The Boston-based research firm also estimated that in September alone, 1.4 billion files were downloaded via Napster's servers.

How Does it Work?
Napster allows users to locate and transfer music files from other users on the Napster network . In a process that is both very simple and very effective, Napster users can simultaneously search the hard drives of everybody who is online and using Napster. In practice, this means Napster users have free almost instant access to hundreds of thousands (and often millions) of MP3s, depending on how many people are online at the time.

  • More info. Master Napster: the netwebly guide to using Napster.

Because in practice Napster allows fans to locate and download copyrighted material, and because they have done so in record numbers, the reaction from the recording industry and many prominent musicians has been predictably negative.

RIAA v. Napster
It wasn't along before the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed suit against Napster, asking the courts to shut the company down and put a stop to the sharing.

As expected, after a widely publicized trial, US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel ruled that Napster was in violation of the law and ordered the company taken offline.The real news came at the eleventh hour when a court of appeals overturned Patel's ruling, allowing Napster to continue operation - a decision that has allowed Napster to defy the odds and continue growing at a phenomenal rate.

Digital Music Explodes
The impact for music on the Net has been energizing. Bogged down by resistance from the major record labels for years, the MP3 movement finally exploded when Napster showed up - just as people had been predicting it one day would. Ironically, the recording industry strategy of refusing to negotiate with digital music companies like and Napster seems to have backfired.

Unable to find legal MP3s of the music they love through other sources , many people have been more than willing to download files from Napster and the other file sharing services without asking. The very thing that the Industry had feared would happen has indeed happened and happened in spectacular style.

The Big Questions
The questions a program like Napster raises are clearly complicated. Should sharing files over the Net be legal? If so, under what circumstances?

And what rights do artists and performers have in this new environment? What should the role of government be? And finally, should Napster users use the service at all, given the moral implications of taking something without paying for it?
Many people, on both sides of the file sharing controversy, claim the answers to these questions are clear cut. Under the circumstances, this seems rather unlikely.

It's the New Pardigram, Man
Ironically, music may be better suited for digital distribution than any other form of digital content, including print, a point you'll hear echoed by digital music advocates almost everywhere you go in cyberspace.

Good Music - New Music - Real Music
Finding and listening to good music has always been a challenge. Many people are unhappy with the music they hear on the radio and the videos they see on cable channels like MTV and VH1. Just as many complain that the music they see on the charts has nothing to do with them.
By allowing people to look to each other for new music instead of to the recording industry, Napster in theory, creates a new environment where music will be allowed to blossom unrestrained by traditional industry. The potential this new environment has to stimulate interest in music and spread is almost unimaginable.

The implications for the recording industry, which has long been accused of manipulating markets and unfairly treating musicians, are obviously nothing short of revolutionary.

Easy to Find, Easy to Use
While the World Wide Web obviously poses a real opportunity for both music lovers and the industry, the sheer size of the Web can make finding and downloading good music a real challenge. Under the circumstances, many feel a centralized distribution system based on the Napster model makes too much sense to ignore.

Many advocates feel that any negative impact caused by piracy and unauthorized duplication will be minimal compared to the many advantages such a system might have.

Low, Low Costs
The costs of distributing music using the Net are almost nothing compared to the massive expenses involved in publicizing and shipping conventional compact disks.
By migrating to digital distribution, the recording industry and many musicians stand to make a hell of a lot money, a fact that seems to elude many involved in the debate.

Go Live!
In many cases entire concerts have turned up on Napster only hours after a band has finished playing. While some musicians are understandably upset about this and the resulting loss of creative control, music fans are just as understandably excited.

The implication for both the recording industry and musicians is potentially revolutionary. As a medium Napster and file sharing services like it could be a way to extend the reach and earning power of live performances.

Given the massive promotional and logistical expenses which have made touring a no win proposition for many bands, this factor alone could revolutionize the industry. In the past many bands have been reluctant to raise ticket prices to cover the increased costs of touring. Pay per view or subscription Napster concerts and tours could make this problem a thing of the past.

Peer to Peer: the next big thing ?
Like every other hot new application to hit the Net, Napster has inspired a wave of copy cats and imitators, all eager to cash in the file sharing frenzy. Just as they have seized on ideas like Net auctions, Portals and Free Internet Service in the past, entrepreneurs have jumped on file sharing as fast as they can.

See Also: file-sharing
  Master Napster: the netwebly guide to Napster
  digital music sites

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