it was only the fall of 1999 when the internet first caught a glimpse of napster, the infamous brainchild of a bored nineteen year old. to those unaware, Napster is the latest craze on the internet—a file sharing program which allows users to download music files (known as mp3s) from each others' computers. the software itself is free to download from http://www.napster.com and requires only an internet connection to run. click, install, click again and you're ready to search thousands of other users' music files. if armed with a fast enough internet connection, a user has the ability to download an entire album in less than half an hour (trust me, i know…). and all without spending a single penny. the result was instant popularity with college students (backed with universities' extra-quick connections) and high school students, who usually find themselves broke on the way to the music store.
but not everyone is a fan of napster. universities all across the country have begun to block student access to the napster server, claiming the constant downloading clogs the college's connection. in the past few months several lawsuits have been filed against the software for copyright infringement—one by the NIAA, and others filed by the individual artists. one case in particular caught the interest of the media: napster vs. metallica. metallica was ultimately unable to shut down the company, but did hand over a list of 30,000 usernames to be banned from napster use (the list was comprised of users that had supposedly illegally downloaded metallica songs over a two day period). the trial has brought disfavor on metallica from some of the general public, who claim that the band which became famous through bootlegging and tape dubbing has become money hungry. just recently, dr. dre joined metallica in napster infamy by banning over 20,000 users who allegedly downloaded his music illegally (myself included).
however, not every musician is waging war against napster; there is a handful of musicians who can be found in napster's corner of the ring. when asked about the controversial software, billy corgan of the smashing pumpkins said that napster signified a shift in the distribution of music to the internet and that one day, music would ultimately be free. limp bizkit has also publically supported napster and will eventually embark on a tour, backed and distributed by napster.
the question that napster raises is the question of stealing. metallica, dr. dre, sheryl crow, eminem, and others have claimed that napster steals from the artists by violating copyright laws of distribution of their work; as a result, they are cheated out of the money they would have made by selling a CD. students claim that the NIAA robs by hiking up prices of CDs and tapes to extreme levels and that napster is their form of digital vigilante justice. others claim that they download to sample records and then, if they like them, ultimately go out and buy them. and still others state that free is free, and that's good enough argument for them—big names like metallica, alanis morisette, and eminem can afford the tiny dent in their pocket.
the government considers 100 music file downloads to a personal computer a felony…don't tell me that, my personal library contains over a thousand. i personally find the entire war waged against napster to be completely futile. even the efforts of metallica and dr. dre are proving themselves pointless; just yesterday i was banned due to the ten or so dr. dre songs i have saved to my hard drive…but, with the help of a complete stranger (a fellow napster user), i will be back to downloading before the sun goes down. even if napster were to be sued, disbanded, or shut down (as will be the case as soon as their trail against the NIAA comes to court) another program would quickly spring up. as we speak, programs like gnutella are surfacing, to serve the same purpose as napster, but better (for further explanation, connect to: http://www.gnutella.com). i must be honest, there is some substance behind the claims of metallica and dr. dre—whenever my singing duo (west of eden) sells a cd, the first words out of my mouth are: “please don't convert it to mp3”. but truth of the matter is mp3s and the internet are the future of music and music distribution. whether our digital hero, napster, will win the war for us or fall to martyrdom is a question still left for the future.
until then…download away.
to find out more about the on-going napster saga and voice your own opinions, connect to: http://www.napster.com/groundzero.