The History of Music on the Internet

 Internet Radio

Napster - A Case Study

MP3 Encoding

Secure Digital Music Initiative

The Future of Music on the Internet


Napster - A Case Study

Napster is the biggest revolution to happen to the music industry since the first vinyl record was  pressed. That first recording shaped the way we as consumers have consumed music. Napster will and is revolutionising this.Here I will look at what Napster is, the future of napster and the contrasting views that are being debated at this moment in a Californian Court.

What is Napster

The above diagram shows how Napster works. It was the brainchild of a 19 year old University Student named Shawn Fanning. Now a multi millionaire, Fanning turned a good idea into one of the most powerful influences in the music industry and Napster is still in beta.

It differs to what was already up on the internet because it offers peer to peer exchange. Your PC becomes the server, it is what is known as content at the edge. Before you could download MP3 files from say a central server but you were limited to what that server had, this is known as content at the centre. With Napster however the only communication you have with a central server is the Napster database itself. This has no real content, it justs acts as a directory for your request and points you in the right direction. The idea of content at the edge is fundamental to the legal battle. Napster itself doesn't actually have any illegal content, it just tells you where to get it!

So in short, what is Napster? Well its an application that gives you access to thousands of others users hard drives/ servers and thus access to their MP3 audio files. It opens a peer to peer link from you and some other user allowing you to download a copy of a file on their PC to your PC or vice versa.

However Napster is much more than this. It is a community, it's a revolution and the beginning of the end of how we consume music today.

The Court Battle

As Napster built up a head of steam and started to make an impact questions were asked about the legality of their actions. Surely it couldn't be legal to give people access to copyrighted music for free. Napster used the loop hole I mentioned before. Their case was that they could not be liable because they don't actually have any of the copyrighted music. If legal action were to be taken up it would have to be against the huge volume of users that Napster has and not Napster itself.
A task to arduous for most, except for Metallica. Some artists agree with the music revolution whereas some don't. Metallica, probably the biggest heavy metal band in America, strongly disaggreed with Napsters point of view. Thus the Lawsuits insued.

The recording industry filed a response to Napster's  legal defense twist, rejecting the software company's position that it bears no liability for the music traded by its users because the practice is legal. Napster filed a brief on July 3 2000 claiming that the online trading of digital music files falls within the parameters of the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which permits copying music for personal use. 
The RIAA, which has sued Napster of behalf of its members for copyright infringement, responded that the federal law provides no legal haven for such action. "The truth is, the making and distributing of unauthorized copies of copyrighted works by Napster users is not "sharing," any more than stealing apples from your neighbor's tree is "gardening," the RIAA wrote in its reply, which was filed in U.S. District Court here on Thursday. 
Indeed, the RIAA points in the reply that Napster's own Web site contains a warning to users that unauthorized copying of copyrighted works constitutes infringement, a cautionary note seemingly at odds with Napster's current defense strategy.  But Napster continues to defend  its users' practice of creating digitized music collections and sharing them online. "If the RIAA were to prevail with the argument made in their filing yesterday, even the simple act of copying a song from a CD onto a computer hard drive in the MP3 format would not be protected by law," Napster officials said in a statement released Friday.  The RIAA maintains that Napster, which claims to have 20 million users, contributes to vicarious and contributory copyright infringement by providing a directory of available copyrighted music that can be downloaded for free directly from each user's computers.

The court battle rages on and will do for the foreseeable future.

The Future?

The future of Napster is in the air. However I think that it is so revolutionary that this particular technological advancement should not be subjected to such menial copyright laws. Napster is the future of music.For too long the music buying public have had to buy music in album format. Artists make an album, it consists maybe of a few desirable songs and the rest of the songs are not so desirable. However we have had to purchase the whole album to hear the music we want to hear. This is unfair,  you are buying music you don't want and furthermore you are buying music you haven't heard before. Napster changes this. It's the new radio. I own the Napster software and treat it like a radio. If I'm interested in a song I will download it to listen to it. I see Napster as a great medium for artists to get thier music out there. The songs I download introduce me to an artist whose album I will purchase on the strength of these songs, not as before on the strength of a single or a biased review.

A case in point is Radiohead. A huge band this side of the atlantic but in the US they were never concieved as anything special. True enough they were beginning to break the states but a number one album in the states was surely beyond them. Not so. The album in Question is "Kid A" and was until recently number one in the US charts since the day of its release. The same album was available via Napster for weeks before its release and became the most downloaded album at the time. Napster was brilliant publicity for "Kid A" in fact it was one of the few things that happened to make people aware of its release.

The RIAA are fighting a battle against themselves, and an expensive battle at that. Record sales have gone up since Napsters widespread use,  I personally have bought more albums since I downloaded the software. Napster is very exciting and we are seeing the beginning of a very exciting time in music.

Even if Napster is shut down, this won't end the revolution, it will simply cutail it. Technology moves faster than any laws and it will move equally fast around them if it has to. The technology is there to implement a big turnaround in the way we consume music, we just have to let everybody adjust to the change. There are many paths we could be led down, like pay per download for example but one thing is sure, technology will ensure we don't stand still, it's an exciting time for music.

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