July 30, 2000

More on Napster

As I wrote a couple of months ago, the concept of Napster rubs me the wrong way. Exactly why is difficult to pin down. I did (and do) my share of piracy.

When I was a teenager I used to tape songs from the radio onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The DJ's used to talk over them a bit but I cut that part out, or learned to live with it. If something really grew on me, I bought the album; if I got tired of it, I taped over it.

When I first went online, I ended up in a music lover's chat room and was soon mailing and receiving cassettes from all over North America. As it turned out, I replaced many of those cassettes with CD's and I definitely bought more than I would have without the free trials. (Which weren't actually free, in that I made cassettes and mailed them away too, but sharing my favourite music was never an expense I begrudged.)

Napster is installed on my computer and Younger Son uses it, but I haven't used it for myself. If I want to preview something I try to find a realaudio excerpt; I would, if I wanted a better preview, go to a music store and listen there. What bothers me about Napster is more than just the fact that downloaded files might contain viruses, and the idea of having another Napster-user pulling out my files. That concept still provokes a "ewwww" but that's not the entire problem.

Perhaps my uneasiness stems from my perception of the Napster-ites as being convinced that they have a legal and moral right to do what they're doing. As things stand now, that's not at all clear. The evils of the recording industry establishment notwithstanding, artists have rights too; the right to choose how their music is (or isn't) marketed. It's not the sounds of birds chirping in the forest, or the wind or the waterfalls; those are "free". Music written, performed, and recorded for sale, isn't. Furthermore, I don't believe it should be freely passed around unless the artist approves it.

Napster and its ilk are providing an alternate system of music distribution which rivals the original in scope. Not everyone has a computer - yet - but in the demographic that the music industry most covets, accessibility to downloaded files is probably very common.

Despite my distaste for stealing on such a grand scale (as opposed to the small scale in which I dabble) I think this lawsuit is a waste of time, energy, and money. The demons are out of the box and there's no putting them back; the cows are already out of the barn; insert your own "it's too late" cliche here. File sharing will continue with or without Napster.

Instead, the music industry should ponder the age-old question: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" and devise reasons for consumers to continue buying the cow (or in this case, the CD's.)

First it must realize that previewing music on this unprecedented scale is here to stay. It must fight technology with marketing (as opposed to lawsuits) and provide extra goodies to those purchasing the product. This could include discounts, mail-in rebates, coupons for merchandise, movies, air miles, concert tickets, video games - the possibilities are endless. Creative marketing can accomplish more than laws and sanctions ever could.

The industry should also be aware that the current trend isn't all bad - it's now much easier for new artists to be heard and to market themselves and for music fans to be exposed to a greater variety of genres.

Finally, copyright laws need to be reexamined. I don't believe things should be legalized just because people are doing them; but there is no way to internationally monitor twenty million Napster users, who, if Napster is shut down, will find alternate systems of file-sharing that are difficult or impossible to stop.

Unless the technology of the internet is severely curtailed (unlikely and impractical) the only way to enforce the current copyright law would be to have the Hard Drive Police systematically inspecting all computers. Laws need to be adapted to current technological capabilities, while still safeguarding rights. It's bound to be a long, intriguing process.

As for our houseguests.. they left this morning, to visit other friends and family before driving home. There were no significant casualties (animate or inanimate) and my nervous system is returning to normal.

Linque Du Jour:   License Plates of the World

It sounds odd but it's really a serious, comprehensive collection of license plates from dozens of countries, past and present. Looking at the pictures of local plates from years ago actually brought back memories.

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