napster

Consumer Review: Napster.com

By Chris Porter
May 15, 2000

First of all, I realize that this is a hot issue surrounding the music industry, and that there are many different sides and points to it. I just want everyone who reads this to know that this is, still, one person’s opinion, and I hope that you can respect it just as I respect yours.

Im a person who has been involved in internet technology for a few years, so I’ve been listening to music in mp3 format for a while now. I figure i’d give an opinion of my own on the topic of Napster.com, since its an issue that is close to home. I DJ as a hobby, and happen to have been a member of napster pretty much from its inception at the beginning of the year, once I read a story about its 19 year old creator, Shawn Fanning. To begin with, I can certainly understand the paranoia from popular musicians such as Metallica and Dr. Dre worrying that this application may cut into thier own album distribution costs, but I question the true motive. The irony here is so thick you can cut it with a knife. This issue would be so much easier to relate to if Metallica wasn’t a band that relied on the distribution of bootlegged copies of their own music to further thier fanbase early in thier careers. To me, as an now “ex-fan” of both artists (personally, I’ve felt the quality of Metallica’s music to be on a steady decline for years now, but thats only my opinion), the explanation of the lawsuit seems unsettlingly egotistic – mainly not a monetary issue, but an issue of control. Upon reading the transcripts from Artist Direct’s online chat with the band Metallica regarding this, control seems to me to be the ONLY issue here. Heres a few quotes from that transcript, from some of the more vocal members of the band regarding this issue:

Lars Ulrich: “It’s important to understand this is not about MP3 as a format. It’s a vehicle that carries music, like a CD. It’s not about MP3, it’s about who controls the format. We have no problem with MP3. We realize that we will reach fans through these vehicles. It’s about who’s conditions and who controls it”

James Hetfield: “That is our choice, it is our way of bringing the music to the people. We can control that. We feel Metallica should be in control of how our music is brought to the people. We’ve always been in control of that since day one.”

Lars Ulrich: “It’s not just about money at the end of the day. It’s about trying to put your foot down before this whole internet thing runs amok and get people to start a debate about, to get Congress to start setting relative parameters about where technology is going. Technology progresses so rapidly that Congress has a hard time keeping up. We want to start a debate and get people to understand what the issues are, and try with other people to figure out what the best solutions are. Paying the artists through the internet, setting up police monitors to see who’s trading. some kind of monitoring or policing of the internet is what people are talking about possible solutions, not police. So the artists can get paid for their property that’s being transferred from one entity to another.”

I don’t wish to rag on Metallica directly, but these statements tell me that they’re not too hip to how the technology works, or how it affects the internet savvy public. I even question the band’s sincerity when they refer to the issue as “this free thing” or that “internet thing”. I doubt they have even had any exposure to the application. Personally, I find it aggravating when someone argues for or against something that they themselves do not have even a marginal understanding of. Unfortunately, this is how I portray Metallica in this issue.

So Mr. Ulrich wants Congress to impose parameters on the future of technology? Sorry dude, but I won’t get behind you there either. I think the Government interferes too much into our lives as is. The internet used to be a pretty much non-gov’t controlled media, but with it’s increasing popularity, even that has changed. Er, wasn’t the idea of Napster to have a forum for everyday music lovers to be able to trade freely amongst themselves without any set limits or formats? There are already hundreds of sites on the internet with a set format of mp3 music for download. They are provided by the music vendors (I.E. music industry), and usually cost a fee for download.

I suppose the big question is: “why sue napster”? After all, they don’t supply the music – we do. Why not go after the software applications (that are usually free of charge too) that allow you to rip cds into mp3 format? Isn’t that a form of pirating? I use them all the time – the artists still make thier money by me purchasing the cd, so whats the problem? This isn’t very different from borrowing your friend’s cd and making a tape of it, is it? I mean, the technology has progressed to the point to where trading is now done on a grander scale than that – maybe the quality has improved with mp3 technology, but the priciple still seems the same. Did the music industry (who have known about the mp3 technology for quite a while now) really think this could not happen? To even assume that the technology would not progress to this point is naive. This naivety has damaged the industry in more ways than one.

James Hetfield: “There are only a few people doing it now, stealing with this service, but what about in five years from now? There has to be somebody who steps up to represent musicians. No one else had the balls to step up and take the first step. Metallica has never been in the back seat, we’ve always been in the driver’s seat.”

Over 300,000 is “a FEW”? Fine. I say, if your going to set a real precident Metallica, have the “balls” to sue each and every fan instead. Your popularity, whether good or bad, will soar to unbelievable proportions, but you would probably end up in court for the next 5 years, and we all know that this will probably not happen. It seems Metallica is going to try to cut the “monster’s” head off by shutting the service down completely. Sure, we may still have the gnutellas or others, etc…to fall back on, but if shutting down napster is successful, how long before these other sites go under seige as well? Personally, I look at napster as a choice. You either use it, or don’t. And I do not look favorably upon anyone who feels they have a right to take away that choice because of who they are within the music industry. I hoping that a compromise can be made between the two factions to avoid this. In conclusion, I’ll say that I don’t think Metallica’s losing any money on this deal, and if anything, thier record sales will probably increase (no such thing as bad publicity, right?) due to this controversial issue. And this issue is all about control of distribution, not money. The only way this band would make me (and many others) feel sympathetic is by proving a significant revenue loss by publicly posting the loss in record sales numbers since napster opened. Do I think that will happen? Nope. But we’ll see…

Followups:

Music Industry Seeks Napster Shutdown (E-Commerce Times – 6/13/00)

Napster Wins Reprieve (E-Commerce Times – 7/31/00)

What do the RIAA’s lawsuits mean? (USA Today – 9/8/03)

RIAA Sues 261, Including 12-Year-Old Girl (BetaNews – 9/9/03)

RIAA lawsuits bring consternation, chaos (USA Today – 9/10/03)

Napster’s back – what did Silicon Valley learn? (UK Register – 10/8/03)

Naughty Napster Plays Nice (The Motley Fool – 2/10/05)

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