In mid February 2001 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Napster, the Internet based music trading system. The decision followed a ruling by a district court in the States last summer that the organisation was “knowingly encouraging and assisting copyright infringements”. Its future is now in question and consequently so is the nature of the music industry and the validity of the World Wide Web as the next generation of communication technology.
For those of you who are ignorant to the functions of Napster as it stands today, here’s a crash course. You download the program from www.Napster.com and install it on your machine. Open it up and the magic begins…your music collection is now inclusive of just about every song you’ve ever heard. Click on the search button; type the artist or the track title and your presented with all the hits of your query. One more double click and your computer downloads the song onto your hard drive. Cool eh? These tracks are called MP3’s and can be played on your computer or if you’re lucky enough to own a CD writer, can be put onto CD for your Discman. Oh and one more thing…its FREE!
Wonderful as it is, there are some people who are more than a little disgruntled by its existence. The major record companies are one such group of people. Giving music away for free is sufficed to say not a practise with which they are either familiar or receptive to. Essentially they are scared that if we, the general public, can get our music for nothing then we’ll stop buying it. Not an unfounded worry. The other group of quibblers are musicians, although thankfully a minority of them, who are worried for the same reasons. The spokesperson for this group is a Mr Lars Ulrich of world dominating metalers, Metallica. The debate around Napster has been going on pretty much since its creation and for all of that time the main argument against it has been about money.
I’m not criticising them for this, after all it’s a Capitalist system we live in and consequently you have to sell something to make a buck. These musicians and their record companies are understandably feeling that their livelihoods are being threatened. Let’s be honest though, is Mr Ulrich really struggling for pennies? I doubt it, especially when we consider that the majority of revenue earned in the music business today is through merchandising. I’m not aware of Napster giving away a free Metallica T-shirt with every download!
What these people have to remember is that we know they’ve got millions of pounds and enjoy lifestyles that we are all envious of. We know this because we gave it to them. The thing that really scares these people is that Napster has forced them to recognise that we don’t need them. In fact, they need us and just as we gave them the wonderful gift of fame and fortune, we can take it all away.
As mentioned before, it is only the minority of musicians who feel threatened by Napster. Others embrace it as a method of distribution with unlimited potential. Madonna even recognises the value of the program. In a recent Rolling Stone interview she stated: “Napster could be a great way for people to hear your music who wouldn’t have the chance to hear it on the radio”. So if the system can be a resource for the Queen of Pop herself, just think what it can do for the local pub band who practise in their drummers garage. These bands have the ability to distribute their music to all of the same people that REM and the Rolling Stones can. Furthermore, we as listeners have the opportunity to hear it.
Surely that’s what music is all about. Metallica would have been over the moon at the chance to distribute their music on such an immense scale at every point of their musical lives before they became big enough to make money from it. It seems that only those who have made a fortune in the business are the ones who want to keep it that way. This self-satisfying trail of thought further cements the general view of the people within the music industry as fat cats with too much power. Napster could be nothing short of a revolutionary force within the industry.
Maybe this is a romantic view, but as history shows us, the rich always survive so those who worry about their income should relax a little. Man Utd, Arsenal and even the lowly Chester City pack their stadium out even when they’re games are broadcast live on the television (admittedly its not so often for one of the three).
The ruling passed earlier this month has put serious questions forward about the future of the program. The music industry does recognise the Internet as a means of future development within the industry and so both sides are suggesting compromises. One of which is a small subscription fee for the use of the service, say £5.00 per month. This seems reasonable for such an incredible tool and when we consider that the site has over 20million users, it will generate enough royalty money to keep everyone happy. There is the major worry though, that given the opportunity, major bands will opt out. Maybe someone needs to point out the fact that if we can’t get Metallica themselves we may start to look for alternatives. Given that there are thousands upon thousands of wannabe bands waiting to take their place, that alternative shouldn’t be hard to find.