B 4 U Download: A checklist for MP3 users
New Music New Language:A Glossary for MP3 users
Facing the Music A NewsHour report on how technology is changing the music industry. (06/14/00)
Downloading or Freeloading: Extra's report on the MP3 explosion
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and rap entrepreneur Chuck D debate the Napster issue on Charlie Rose's PBS talk show [note: this is not an actual transcript, but a place from which a video of the show can be purchased]
The lead singers of Live and Counting Crows discuss Napster, bootlegs and other issues
A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Napster, the free Internet music service, must stop trading copyrighted material.
Napster, the popular Web site that allows users to swap and download commercial music for free, could be held liable for "vicarious copyright infringement" the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
The court said Napster must prevent users of its search index from accessing content that could potentially infringe on copyrights. Napster said the decision could force it to shut down, but it will appeal the ruling.
Fearing a ruling to shutdown the service, music fans flooded the Napster site in the past few days, downloading more than 250 million songs.
Faces the Music
Less than a year ago, a 19-year-old college freshman named Shawn Fanning released a computer program he had just written.
He called it "Napster" -- his own nickname (apparently Fanning had issues with shampoo, so his hair was kind of . . . well, you know).
Lately, some pretty well-known musicians have been commenting on Fanning's achievement. Here's what they have to say:
"Napster is robbing me blind," says Chris Robinson, of the Black Crowes.
Scott Stapp, lead singer with Creed, agrees. "My music is my home," he says, "Napster is sneaking in the back door and robbing me blind."
"This is as close as you can get to what's right and what's wrong," insists Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, "It is sickening."
"That's the way I look at it," says Art Alexakis, of Everclear, "It's wrong. It's inherently wrong. It's stealing."
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued the small company created around Fanning's software late last year. In May, hard rock band Metallica and rapper Dr. Dre followed suit, saying their own work was being stolen by Napster users.
Only a week after MP3.com launched services like Napster the RIAA and several record labels filed suit to prevent that company from making it available. MP3.com has since agreed to pay two of the recording labels a fee for the use of some music.
And on June 12, the RIAA asked a judge to close down Napster's Web site until the court hears the case.
Free and Easy
What's got these big-name, big-selling musicians all riled up?
You may already have heard. "Napster" is a hot new program that makes it easy for people to trade digital music files (called MP3 files) on the Internet. (Check out our glossary.)
MP3 files can be recordings of anything, but most of them are copies of songs from CDs. They can be played on any computer with a sound card and speakers, stored on a computer chip in a tiny MP3 player and played anywhere or can even recopied on a blank CD.
MP3 music files have been around for several years, but they were difficult to find. With Napster, they're easy to find. And they're FREE.
So it's no wonder musicians and recording industry executives are worried. They're imagining a future where nobody goes to stores and buys CDs anymore.
Instead, everybody just downloads their music, for free, off the Internet.
Rights and Copyrights
The recording industry says MP3 copies of songs from CDs are against the law. Specifically, copyright law.
Copyright law makes it illegal to make copies of recordings, writing, drawings, etc. (called "works of authorship" by copyright lawyers) without getting permission of the creator, or copyright holder.
Of course, to get permission you usually have to pay a fee, or royalty.
The situation is similar to the problem of people making cassette copies of CDs, or "dubbing." Dubbing is also illegal (unless you are making a copy -- for your own use only -- of a CD you have already purchased).
But dubbing is less of a problem, because to make a cassette copy of a CD you have to know somebody who has the CD and is willing to let it be copied; borrow it; dub it, which often takes as long as listening to the whole CD -- and hopefully, return the CD. (Also, the final product is a cassette, which is of inferior quality to a CD.)
The process is time-consuming and inefficient-- keeping dubbing to a minimum (unless a lot of people suddenly became dubbing fanatics).
So while the recording industry was initially terrified by tape dubbing (and still isn't too crazy about people doing it) it has found that it can still sell a lot of CDs and make a lot of money.
for the Masses....
With MP3 technology, the Internet, and Napster, the process of making copies of CDs is much, much more efficient.
One person makes a copy of a song and literally millions can copy it, instantly and anonymously.
Napster users can download hundreds of songs in an hour or less. All without paying a cent in royalties. The recording industry has realized that if it keeps quiet this time around, it could be downloaded out of existence.
Now the recording industry is launching a massive effort to stop illegal MP3s.
Along with a big PR campaign to educate consumers about the illegal nature of most MP3s and the dangers to the music business, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is suing Napster and MP3.com, another Internet music company.
Artists One, Napster Zip
So far, the legal system has sided with RIAA.
A judge recently ruled that MP3.com violated copyright law when it copied thousands of popular CDs and put them on the MyMP3.com Web site -- even though users had to prove they owned the CD before they could access the digital copy. Next, the judge will decide how much MP3.com should pay in damages -- and it could be several billion dollars.
In early June MP3.com reached out of court settlements with Warner Music Group and BMG Entertainment. MP3.com agreed to pay a few so that music from both companies can be stored on the service.
Napster, meanwhile, tried to be clever and avoid the sort of copyright charges that got MP3.com in trouble.
The Napster system was specifically designed so that all music files are provided by Napster users and stored on the users' computers -- not central Napster computers.
Thus, Napster, the company, claims it neither makes any illegal copies, nor plays host to anybody else's illegal copies. It just allows people to communicate and share with each other.
Napster was hoping to qualify as a "safe harbor", a legal term for some digital networks (such as Internet Service Providers -- AOL, Prodigy, etc.). If Napster is a "safe harbor" it isn't responsible for any illegal or offensive information that might pass through it's network.
But the judge didn't buy it.
Can't Stop the Music
Some people say that however the Napster case is decided, RIAA can't really stop MP3s. They point to a new generation of programs, inspired by Napster, which are coming out, and are genuinely immune to charges of copyright violation.
Programs like "Gnutella," "Wrapster," and "Freenet" are similar to Napster except for these important differences:
The data base of music files are not maintained by a single person or company, so there is no one entity the RIAA can sue.
Secondly, not only do files not sit on any central server, they don't even "pass through" a centralized communication area, as is the case with Napster. Instead, users communicate with one another completely untouched by any central system.
Third, they allow users to trade all kinds of files, not just MP3 files. This will make it difficult for RIAA to argue that the programs "primarily exist" to trade in illegal MP3s.
And fourth, they strip or scramble any information that might identify a user, making the transactions anonymous and untraceable. Even if the recording industry wanted to sue each of its listeners one by one (which it really doesn't), it couldn't find them.
Brave New World
Not every musician fears this new world of digital music and MP3 trading.
Some musicians have come out to support it. In a letter to the New York Times, rapper Chuck D says: "Unlike many of my fellow artists, I support the sharing of music files on the Internet. I believe artists should welcome napster. We should think of it as a new kind of radio-promotional tool."
Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit said, "the only people worried about [Napster] are really worried about their bank accounts," and has agreed to participate in a free nationwide concert tour to generate support and encouragement for Napster.
On the business end, some Napster supporters argue that even a world full of free MP3s won't significantly cut into CD sales. They argue that Napster might even increase sales, by introducing music to a massive new Internet. audience.
Many Napster users say they just use MP3s to "preview" music. When they find something they like, they go out (or go online) and buy it.
Other Napster supporters argue that as long as record companies continue to offer a product with more "value," they will stay in business. Physical CDs are more valuable to many because they are more fully portable, and come with a booklet, photos and lyrics, and provide fans the opportunity to support artists they admire.
And they are legal-- that still means something to most people.
Many who are not so trustworthy or optimistic still grudgingly support Napster. Threatening to sue your customers never works, they say.
The Times They Are A'Changing
Change is inevitable -- record companies and musicians will have to find new ways to make money.
Some people suggest that musicians should rely more on endorsement and advertising, using the popularity of their freely distributed MP3 recordings to sell T-shirts, concert tickets and so on.
And then there are those who imagine the same future -- without CD sales, without royalties -- that upset the musicians quoted above. Yet they support Napster.
Some of these people are Internet. anarchists, who have long argued that "information should be free" and people should make money by making products and providing services, not by collecting royalties from "intellectual property."
Ian Clarke, the creator of the Freenet program has said, "I think that people will look back . . . at the idea that you can own information in the same way as gold or real estate in the same way we look at witch burning today."
Specifically, many computer designers think the Internet. was initially intended to be a forum for the free exchange of information, not a commercial marketplace. They insist traditional copyright law is obsolete and ineffectual, and needs to be completely retooled or abandoned.
Who Gets Rich?
Finally, there are music purists who argue that rock-star record sales and multi-million promotion budgets have created a corrupt music industry that exists only to make money. They think the five major record labels act as a monopoly, or "trust", controlling the ability to produce, distribute, and most important, promote new music. In their opinion, we shouldn't feel bad for a second if that old industry is destroyed, or utterly scaled back.
Some musicians feel the major labels pay musicians too little.
For example, when the industry switched from cassettes to CDs, the cost of albums went from an average of $18 to an average of $12 (even though it is now cheaper to make CDs than cassettes). But the record companies didn't share the windfall. They still pay musicians the same royalties, keeping all the extra profit for themselves.
Will Music Survive?
After all, music existed long before platinum album sales. Instead of making music to get rich, people made music for personal expression, to share with others, and for live performance. In a world of MP3s, those more modest motivations might return. Music, musicians, and listeners might become less commercial. And many people think we would all be better off.
The implications of this debate -- over the brainchild of a college freshman who was trying to save himself and his roommate some time -- are occasionally dizzying. Yet, the music industry survived cassette tapes and other technological innovations, with the help of determination, a lot of lawyers, and some new technology of it's own.
Technology hasn't finished speaking.
--contributed by Aaron Page
What do you think? Should there be restrictions on downloading MP3 music files?
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