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May 26th, 2000

Metallica v. Napster Arguments

I haven’t had the opportunity to speak my piece on the Napster issue. Allow me to indulge.

Issue 1: Napster violates copyrights. Not exactly, no. Napster itself, as a program and as a protocol, does not violate any copyrights – neither does the MP3 format, for that matter. Some of what people do with Napster may violate copyrights, yes. Napster does give the standard warnings about this on its site, and once you sign on to the system. Individual responsibility is stressed. It’s my opinion that it’s unrealistic for Napster to sit and watch every single user on the system, and ensure they’re not breaking laws. Devil’s advocate: it’s equally unrealistic for Napster to just sit back and say, "Hey, we don’t know what our users do, and don’t care."

Issue 2: Artists are losing money because of Napster. I’d like proof. Record sales were up 7% for the past year. If Metallica, Eminem, Dr. Dre, or the RIAA can provide hard data that says so-and-so lost sales due to their songs being available as MP3s, I’d love to see it. This issue resides wholly in the grey area created by making art for a living. The music industry, arguably, is the most commercially-oriented art industry in the nation. You make music, you get noticed by a record label, you make money. It can also be argued that the record companies make a truckload of money on CDs sold (and I imagine this can be proven, again, with a cost analysis) – so, in essence, aren’t the companies stealing money from the artists, too?

Issue 3: Artists should have total control over their music. In an ideal world, this would be true. But think about it: how many mix tapes have you heard in your life? How many mix CDs have you heard? How many live concerts have you heard on tape? All of those methods of listening to music are, technically, just as illegal as downloading illegal MP3s online. Lars Ulrich has been quoted as saying that Metallica should have total control over who listens to their music, how they listen to it, and where. Unfortunately, he’s wrong: they gave up that control to their record label!

Issue 4: Metallica has enough money; they don’t need any more. Very touchy point. I’m sure Metallica doesn’t need any more money, but greed is a powerful thing. Metallica’s motives are particularly murky, given the recurring issues of money and copyright. Perhaps they’re too intertwined to be separated.

Issue 5: CDs are too expensive, so I download MP3s to fight back. One side of me agrees with this quite a bit – CDs are expensive, particularly in BNM stores. But there are online options, and used record stores, too. A similar argument is that people just want one or two songs off of a CD and not the rest. I think everyone’s been burned by a really awful CD after hearing a great leadoff single, and it’s an argument I can relate to a bit more.

With those issues in mind, it’s my opinion that the RIAA simply got caught with their pants down and doesn’t know how to reconcile it. It’s obvious that digital music will only gain in popularity for a good segment of the population. Will it eliminate CDs? Not any time soon. Will it peacefully coexist? It can. The record companies, essentially, need to work out a digital music plan yesterday. Napster might be shut down, but what of Gnutella, which isn’t run by any one individual, company, or organization? What of Scour? And what of the next program that comes down the pike?

Ex-Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan might’ve hit the nail on the head. He has said that music will be free, eventually – but you might have to put up with advertisements placed on the sites you download those files from, as well as in the music files themselves.

But then, someone will come up with a way to circumvent those advertisements, and the argument will resurface. There’s no easy answer in this situation, particularly when money is involved. -pm

Posted in Miscellaneous

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