Challenging Copyright

NOW

Napster is now a Best Buy company offering music downloads for paid subscribers. You can listen to full songs without having to download them. You can access your music on your devices, and you can have access to the largest music streaming catalog available. Starting at only $4.17/month, the music you crave is at your fingertips.

THEN

Napster, started by a college drop-out, is a peer-to-peer file sharing network filled with rare, live, album, and unreleased music that is free to users willing to wait out the downloads on their dial-up networks. You can burn the mp3 files to blank compact discs that you can carry around in your DiscMan.

The Napster Story

As Shawn Fanning was bored with college, he began programming for Napster, a service he wanted to create to make it easier to find music mp3’s online rather than using the search engines of those times. When Shawn unleashed the service in June 1999 to a couple of chatroom friends who couldn’t keep a secret, 3-4 thousand users downloaded the program and it was clear that this could have big business potential. Funded and encouraged by his uncle John Fanning, they pressed forward with Napster and it quickly became a profitable success. John does claim to have investigated possible future legal issues with copyright laws and intended the company to follow all laws. Those involved felt that Napster was protected under fair use laws, the same that allow a person to tape record a song for another person. Napster didn’t host the files, it merely offered the network where peers could trade with each other. They did not monitor or have control to the content that was traded and they had hopes that the service would bring attention to many unsigned bands and even warned users not to infringe on copyrighted works.


The record industry felt differently. And although executives at Napster felt sure they would be able to strike a deal with the record industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster in December 1999. The RIAA feared that Napster was creating a black market for illegal copies of digital music. They argued that this could, and already had affected hardcopy album sales in stores. Meanwhile, Napster moved their headquarters to Silicon Valley and searched for months for a venture capitalist to back the company.  They were having a hard time finding anyone willing to back the company since it was hard for anyone to see how they could face and win their impending legal battles. To make it even worse, the band Metallica sued Napster for copyright infringement in April 2000 after tracks from their unreleased album leaked out onto Napster months before the album was to be released. But they still pushed on, hiring new executives who were capable of bringing the startup into a real money-making business model and of negotiating with the record companies. The creators, the technology and the audience was there, ready to make Napster a success. But the licensing issues were holding the entire force back. They needed to find a way that the artists and the labels received royalties for the downloaded music.The court date came in July, nearly a year after the service took off, and the judge took only 2 hours to decide that the RIAA was in the right and that Napster had to shut off all access to its music service by midnight that Friday. Devastated, the Napster team felt they had to regroup and find a new way to legally bring music to people.

My Opinion

And now here in 2011, you have Napster, owned by Best Buy still offering convenient music for consumers, but this time, for a small price. I think part of the problem of Napster was the freedom users had mixed with the users’ ignorance of copyright laws. At the time I personally was using Napster, I did not know about or understand those laws. Since the service was available, I used it and figured it must be O.K. to do. And it has never seemed to me that Napster set out to kick the music business in the crotch with it’s free service. I believe that Shawn’s intention was to create a community of music and he never intended to hurt artists, but rather help them and their listeners. I think Napster brought to the forefront, in a clumsy way, the obvious need for the music industry to stay ahead of technology and to protect itself. Music naturally lends itself to grassroots movements, and Napster was perfect in that respect. Compact Discs weren’t cutting it for consumers who had access to the internet and were becoming accustomed to having access to what they wanted at the very moment they wanted it, and so Napster came in and filled that void. I know I still have CD’s lying around filled with tracks that I had downloaded through Napster’s original service. The experience with Napster sure primed me for iTunes music downloading service, as I now have spent hundreds on the pay-per-song service. I love being able to have access to music instantly, even on my smartphone, and I thank Napster for blazing the rocky trail.

Sources:

http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_33/b3694001.htm

http://www.forbes.com/2000/04/14/mu4.html

http://www.mp3newswire.net/stories/napster.html

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