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Napster Has the Music World in an Uproar Print E-mail
Monday, 01 May 2000
Napster, the newest buzz in the world of online music, is causing controversy; it has record companies and many artists up in arms. What is Napster, you ask? It is a program written for Windows that is essentially a search engine for compressed MP3 music files. Currently Napster is not available in a Mac version but can be used with Virtual PC and Linux. A Mac version called Macster is also now available. For those who are unfamiliar with the term MP3, it's a file format that compresses digital music files, making them easier to distribute over the Internet, while still delivering near CD-quality sound. Napster allows you to search for MP3s, then to download them for free from other Napster users who have the track that you are looking for. Napster matches up the IP addresses of the downloader and downloadee, avoids broken links, server glitches and other related problems.

This method of sharing MP3 files has become so popular that many college campuses have blocked its use in their computer labs to ease the load on their networks. Heavy metal super group Metallica has gone so far as to file a lawsuit against Indiana University, USC and Yale, claiming that the universities illegally allowed students to swap music using Napster on campus. Napster use has since been banned at these schools.

Executives at Napster claim that the program and website were created as a promotional tool for artists to share music with the world and give people a chance to hear music that they might otherwise miss. Record companies and many artists do not agree and compare it more to someone walking into a record store and stuffing CDs under their shirt, then walking out without paying.

People have been able to easily record music for free from the radio ever since the cassette recorder was invented, but Napster takes this concept to an entirely new level. A quick search for "Michael Jackson" on Napster yielded well over 500 available tracks from his hits such as "Thriller" and "Beat It" to lesser-known songs such as "Librarian Girl" and "Get on the Floor," all available for free by simply downloading them from a fellow Napster user. This makes Napster the world's largest virtual radio station -- the user decides what to listen to, and when to listen to it.

One of the main concerns that Napster users face is security. When a song is downloaded from a fellow Napster user's personal library, the downloader accesses the other's server or hard drive and copies it into their own storage device. Although it's unlikely, the use of Napster may put the user at the risk of acquiring viruses, or having their computer broken into by hackers.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Metallica and rapper/producer Dr. Dre and his company Aftermath Entertainment have all filed lawsuits against Napster, claiming that they are providing users with the tools to commit "massive copyright infringement." Does providing a means to commit music piracy make a company responsible for the actions of its customers, or should the companies go after each person individually? Music piracy has been a known factor in the equation of the budgets of all record companies, but with the overwhelming power of the Internet, piracy is a much greater concern. If the day came where all music was free to all users on the Internet, would music fans still go out to stores to purchase music? Would some artists cease recording their music altogether?

Some artists, such as Limp Bizkit and The Offspring, support Napster for the exposure that it gives them in the hopes that they will make their money at live shows and by selling merchandise. By taking this stand on the issue, Limp Bizkit has recently received more mainstream press coverage recently than in the past several years. Will this exposure translate into future album sales? That remains to be seen, as Limp Bizkit is currently in the studio recording their album due out in August (Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water).

Record companies and artists who are losing out on the royalties when people download songs for free rather than buying them from a retail outlet are trying to shut the site down. If they cannot block the site, they will try to monitor it and charge royalties for the transfer of their material. Until a decision is made in the courts, more and more people will swap MP3s and Napster will continue to be one of the hottest sites on the Internet.

Want to learn more about MP3's? Click here.

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