The Napster Revolution
by Derrick Hart

From the writer: The assignment concerned extensive research of subject matter that sparked interest in the author. As music is a passion of mine, I felt covering Napster would be a current and interesting topic. Due to the ongoing trials involving Napster that were developing during the semester, I had to stop researching at a certain point in order to finish the paper. My general writing influences include writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac.

From the editors: In this research paper, Hart offers an extensive overview of the Napster phenomenon. Through this engaging piece the history of Napster, as well as the arguments it has sparked within the music industry, are discussed. Derrick introduces the reader to this popular issue in an objective and resourceful manner.

From the teacher: Derrick Hart As could be expected, a portion of WRT 303 (Writing and Research) called for individual research and a piece of research-based writing. I want to assure readers that we all did a lot of hard, messy drafting, trying to manage the complex tasks of writing in these genres, because Derrick's accomplished and informative analysis of the Napster controversy just plays like good music.

The Napster website concept is a simple one: its creator hoped to design a "program that allows computer users to swap music files (mp3's) with one another directly, without going through a centralized file server or middleman" (Greenfeld 62). Napster has achieved an amazing level of success, although it is technically a "file-distribution program . . . that uses a central server" (Peek 36). However, this simple idea has caused one of the biggest Internet revolutions in history, growing in popularity with such speed that it has been described as "up there with e-mail and instant messaging" (Greenfeld 62). It has also caused enormous backlash from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has manifested its anger in the form of recent and current lawsuits against Napster for alleged copyright infringement. Napster has also divided musicians and the music industry like no other issue in recent memory, with anti-Napster artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre pitted against pro-Napster artists like Chuck D, formerly of the highly influential late 80s/early 90s rap group Public Enemy.

Some of the major topics this paper will discuss include background information about Napster and its creator in order to put its situation into perspective; how Napster works and its major components; Napster's rapid rise in popularity and why I think it became popular, especially among college students; why the two different sides in the debate feel the way they do about Napster; how Napster and similar sites have changed the Internet and the way the music industry operates; some of the legal issues and trials surrounding Napster; and what will happen to Napster in the future after the current lawsuit is resolved, if a decision or settlement is reached in the case before this paper is due.

Napster is the sole creation of a 19-year-old Northeastern University dropout named Shawn Fanning, who first became obsessed with this idea when he was an 18-year-old freshman in college (60). The name of the website derives from a high school nickname given to Fanning, who was known as the "Napster," which was a "reference to his perpetually nappy hair" (63). Fanning's idea came from repeated complaints that he heard from his roommate and other friends about dead mp3 links, dead ends while searching for music on the Net, and frustration in trying to find music on the Net (62-63). Fanning has remarked, "My roommates were mp3 fanatics . . . I heard them complaining all the time about how hard it was trying to find songs using search engines like mp3.lycos and scour.net" (Beato). For the sake of clarity, mp3 is " a system for digitally encoding music so that it may be played back on a personal computer" and its primary benefits are that it "compresses digital audio information to a file size small enough that it may be sent over the Internet and that the sound quality is at the CD level" (Gasaway, 44). Fanning has said that he was bored by his introductory computer science courses and looked upon his Napster website as a more challenging project that he could work on (Beato).

As Fanning became increasingly obsessed with developing the software necessary to enable users to swap music files between their own computers, he decided to work at it full-time and dropped out of Northeastern in January of 1999 (Greenfeld 63). Fanning discovered that, if he combined a file-sharing system and music-search function, with a facilitated communication using the quickness of an instant messaging form of information transfer, then he "could bypass the rats' nest of legal and technical problems that kept great music from busting out all over the World Wide Web" (62). All he had to do was "combine the features of these existing programs" in order to make his idea work (62). When he was finished with the Napster program in the summer of 1999, he unleashed what would become a monster program on the Net (Michael).

The way Napster works is fairly simple to explain. Users start by downloading and installing Napster's software onto their personal computer. This software "enables the PC to log on to Napster's server and when a search is made, that server checks its database for any other Napster users who are online and have that file" (62). If the server finds a computer that has a match, "Napster puts the computer that has the file directly in touch with the computer that wants it, and the file is downloaded from one to the other" (62). The key is that "Napster does not host files on its servers but it does provide access to music files on others' computers . . . permitting users to share their mp3 collections with each other and facilitating the location of these files" (Gasaway 44). The three major components to Napster are "a chat program, so that users can talk with each other about their favorite music genres; an audio player to play mp3 files right from inside Napster in the event users do not have an external player; and a tracking program that allows users to organize and keep track of their favorite mp3 libraries for later browsing" (44). Although Napster is easy to use and its popularity means a greater chance of finding the songs that you are looking for, there are some drawbacks to the website. Napster's "directory of users is stored on a central server, so if the server is slow then the service is as well, it only works for mp3 files and not other files, and it is currently banned at forty percent of U.S. colleges" (Greenfeld 63).

In terms of users, Napster soon became the fastest growing website in history, surpassing 25 million users in less than a year online (62). Some of the factors that I think have led to the enormous surge in popularity of Napster include Napster's relative ease of setup and usage; the sheer number of songs that can be traded through Napster's website; and CD prices at record stores and online music sites like amazon.com and cdnow.com that are outrageously expensive, considering how cheaply they can be produced. Before Napster was invented, searching for mp3's on the Internet was "a horrible-want-to-stick-forks-in-your-eyes type of experience" (Beato). Many sites before Napster were online only part of the day or limited the number of concurrent users, while others required a user to upload two or three songs for every one that he downloaded (Beato). Napster has simply "streamlined the process, offering tons of easy-to-download music in the form of private collections" (Beato). Since a typical session on Napster connects anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 users, it gives users access to approximately 1 billion music files (Beato and Cohen 70). "The Napster network gets better as it gets bigger, because each new user adds something to it," and since Napster is only getting bigger each day, with estimates now at 38 million users, the number of songs available only increases each day (Beato).

CD prices have gotten out of control, becoming way too expensive, as a cartoon in the January 2001 issue of Spin magazine jokes: "Sale! All CD's only $18.97" (Beato 80). That price listed in the cartoon is not too far from the truth. I have encountered chain record stores selling the majority of their CD's for either $17.99 or $18.99 each. Many Napster users will either listen to a few tracks before they decide to buy the CD or download the song or two that they want from the album, instead of shelling out 18 or 19 bucks for the overpriced CD that only has a couple of songs that they want (Beato). A Napster user named Jonny Gerow, who used to run his own mp3 download site until Time Warner Co. shut it down, reinforced this view when he said, "I'll listen to a few tracks before I decide to buy the CD . . . I want the physical CD" (Beato).

The use of Napster by college students has been heavy since its inception in the summer of 1999, with college use only increasing more over the past five months as Napster's legal battles have been heating up. A recent study conducted in June 2000 by the Internet research firm Webnoize Inc. found that "seventy percent of college students surveyed use Napster at least once a month" (Eliscu 29). The same study also found "that most students don't permanently store the files they download" (29). This last point supports Chuck D's notion that Napster is a "new kind of radio" that "can be used to bolster music fans' enthusiasm instead of supplanting their interest in buying records" (29). The idea that "making copies of songs for personal, noncommercial use is not a copyright violation" could be a key argument for Napster's lawyers when the hearings in the RIAA suit against Napster resumes in July 2000 (29).

However, many universities across the U.S. seem to disagree with the pro-Napster sentiments expressed by Chuck D, as over 130 universities have cut off access to Napster in recent months (Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom 69). Many universities say they are pulling the plug on Napster access because "music-hungry students . . . have clogged campus computer networks" by searching for and downloading mp3 song files on Napster ("University"). San Francisco State and the University of California at Berkeley are just two of the "more than a hundred" universities that have blocked or limited access to Napster's website ("University")Many university officials say that Napster use has "overwhelmed campus computer systems, disrupting e-mail and academic uses of the Internet and sending [their] connection costs soaring" ("University")Part of the problem is the way the Napster software works, as it "sends users to music files on personal computers that have already downloaded them . . . but in order to share music files, users must leave the software running . . . [and] many students do . . . all night or while they are in class" ("University"). Brian Hawkins, president of EDUCAUSE in Boulder, Colorado, which represents computer systems workers at 1,700 colleges and universities, is quoted as saying "I don't think we've had an application (Napster) that has singularly done something like this before…there is no doubt that this tool is disrupting the primary reason those networks are on these campuses" ("University").

Napster's website has divided musicians sharply as to whether it helps or harms the music industry by offering free mp3's of songs to its users. The artist who has been the most persistent and outspoken advocate in favor of Napster is the rapper Chuck D (Eliscu 29). The Smashing Pumpkins have also spoken out in favor of Napster, with leader singer/guitarist Billy Corgan claiming, "It's a waste of time to go after Napster. It's the wave of the future" (29). Courtney Love of the rock band Hole has also advocated Napster use and has been quoted as saying, "Why aren't record companies embracing this great opportunity (with Napster)?" (Greenfeld 66) Chuck D insists, "the only ones (artists) screaming about this (Napster) are those who had dominance in the prior system" (Eliscu 29).

The musicians that advocate Napster use argue that Napster exposes listeners to new music and new bands that they might not normally be exposed to or that might not be played on the radio, MTV, or VH1, thus increasing their desire to buy more CD's (29). Chuck D has dubbed Napster "a new kind of radio," that can be used to bolster music fans' enthusiasm in buying albums (29). The fact that most Napster users do not permanently store the mp3's they download supports this statement (29). If most Napster users do not keep the mp3's they get, then they are listening to them once or twice, like songs on the radio, and then deciding if they want to buy the whole album of an artist based on whether or not they like those songs. This would seem to only help the music industry sell more albums and not hurt them, because most users use Napster to preview or test out an album that they are potentially interested in buying rather than permanently holding on to downloaded songs. The musicians who are advocates of Napster use also argue that making copies of songs for personal, noncommercial use, which is what Napster users are doing when they make copies for their own enjoyment and not to resell them, is not a copyright violation (Greenfeld 66).

It is perfectly legal for consumers to copy music for noncommercial use. Musicians that support Napster cite the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, in which the U.S. Congress declared that "it is legal to make recordings and lend them out to people, provided it is not done for commercial purposes . . . [but] it is unlawful . . . if it is done to make a profit" (66). Supporters of Napster also cite the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was passed by Congress in 1998, as reinforcing Napster's position because it offers a "safe harbor" to online service providers from copyright-infringement claims that arise from the activities of their users (Beato). To comply with the DMCA, Napster has posted a notice on its website that promises to "respond expeditiously to claims of copyright infringement coming from using the Napster service" (Beato). If someone makes a claim, they have to prove that the copyright infringement actually took place, which is hard to do because mp3 files themselves are not intrinsically illegal; anyone who owns an mp3 file can make a legal copy of it (Beato).

The artists that have been the most outspoken and persistent against Napster have been the rock band Metallica and the rapper Dr. Dre, who have both filed lawsuits against the company. I will discuss this further during the sections of this paper that deal with the legal issues surrounding Napster. Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, has said publicly, "Why would people pay for music if they get it for free? We're very lucky . . . but what about the musicians who are just getting started?" (66) Dr. Dre has been even more adamant against Napster and has taken what they are doing personally, saying, "Napster is taking food out of my kids' mouths . . . and I'm going to fight (Napster) to the death . . . I've always dreamed about making a living at something I love to do. And they're (Napster) destroying my dream. They're gonna lose this" (Eliscu 29). Some other artists that have publicly spoken out in opposition to Napster include Don Henley, formerly of the band The Eagles; Art Alexakis of Everclear; Puff Daddy; Garth Brooks; and Elton John (29). These artists argue that giving away CD-quality music for free on Napster means lower sales for all musicians, both big and small, because a Napster user can hypothetically download and save an entire album of songs off of Napster instead of going out and buying that exact same album at a record store (29). They also argue that every song downloaded off of Napster is a bootleg that has been unauthorized by the actual artist, meaning that the artist will lose profits to which he or she should be entitled (29).

Napster has forced record companies to rethink their business plans and recording artists to defend their rights to their intellectual property (Greenfeld 62). What especially scares the music industry about Napster is that they know that this is just the beginning of the online music explosion. The U2 guitarist known as "The Edge" has been quoted as saying, "If they think Napster's bad, I can tell you there's a lot worse coming . . . the software that is untraceable is just around the corner" (Michael) Many are already calling the upcoming ruling in the current Napster lawsuit the "blueprint for the future of the entertainment industry" (Greenfeld 62). In the process of creating Napster, Fanning "not only transformed the music business, but he also helped launch a new programming movement—and a whole wave of start-ups dedicated to what has become known as P2P, or peer-to-peer, client-based Internet software" (64). Even if Napster is shut down by the courts, it appears peer-to-peer file sharing will stick around in some form for a long time to come. There are already "new, even more intractable sharing systems, such as Gnutella and Freenet, that allow files to be traded directly from PC to PC, without going through a single website like Napster's" (Cohen 70). These kinds of "renegade services would be harder to shut down because they have no centralized plugs to pull and no company officers to sue" (70).

Like Napster, Gnutella software is downloaded and installed by a user on his personal computer. However, in contrast to Napster, a "hello" message is "sent to another computer that's already on the network, which forwards it to seven others, letting them know that the first computer is onboard" (Greenfeld 62). Those computers forward it to more computers and so on. A request by the first computer "percolates through the Gnutella network . . . when it reaches a computer that has the file, Gnutella connects the two computers directly, and the file is downloaded" (62). What makes a service like Gnutella so hard to ban is that it "doesn't rely on any central server, making it truly decentralized" (63). Gnutella works for all kinds of files; it is not limited to just mp3's, and it is "tough to ban because (its) files look like ordinary Web traffic" (63). Newer services like Gnutella are still "works-in-progress, so there are still bugs in the code," but even if Napster gets shut down the Internet music revolution has only just begun.

The implications of the peer-to-peer file-sharing movement that Napster pioneered "go way beyond pop music" (Cohen 68). Jupiter Communications analyst Aram Sinnreich insists, "the hype is justified," because "network file sharing has profound implications for the business model of the entire entertainment industry" (68). Napster, and the outcome of its trial with the RIAA, will have major implications for similar programs that trade in other forms of intellectual property. There are other Napster-like file-exchanging services - like CuteMX, iMesh, and Swapstation.com - that will be following the trial closely because its outcome will affect them tremendously. Along with mp3's, these other programs allow you "to find and exchange all sorts of file types, which intensely scares anyone who traffics in intellectual property (books, music, videos, feature films, etc)" (Beato). Soon the TV, movie, and porn industries may be filing lawsuits of their own as these new Napster-style applications are used to distribute everything from "bootleg copies of The Simpsons to term papers and class notes" (Beato). The decision in the RIAA lawsuit against Napster will set a precedent for any future lawsuits against similar sites that trade in all forms of intellectual property.

Several months after its launch in the summer of 1999, Napster quickly "became notorious in the (record) industry" (Sheffield 42). By December of 1999, "the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) (had) filed suit against Napster" (42). The RIAA charged Napster with "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement" and it seeks $100,000 in damages for each copyrighted work that is infringed (Beato). In April 2000, "Metallica also sued Napster for copyright infringement, and so did Dr. Dre" (Sheffield 42). To clarify exactly what Napster is being sued for, it is necessary to re-examine exactly how Napster operates and the legal implications of swapping mp3 files on Napster.

"Only Napster's index and directory reside on a central server; the files are actually transferred via various Windows protocols directly from user to user" (Greenfeld 64). Legally, that means "that no copyrighted material is ever in Napster's possession" (64). Specifically, the RIAA's contention is "that Napster is guilty of something called tributary copyright infringement, which means Napster is being accused not of violating copyright itself but of contributing to and facilitating other people's infringement" (64).

Napster requested to dismiss the lawsuit brought against it by the RIAA on the grounds that no copyrighted mp3 material is ever in their possession. In response, on May 5, 2000 a California judge "denied (their) motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by the RIAA, which accuses Napster of illegally providing access to mp3 files of copyrighted songs" (Eliscu 29). The Metallica and Dr. Dre lawsuits were resolved with Napster "being forced to block the accounts of 335,000 users who had downloaded Metallica songs . . . (and) on May 17th, 2000, (Napster) received a new list from Dr. Dre of 230,000 users accused of having illegally traded mp3's of Dre's songs" (29).

In July of 2000, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found Napster guilty of "wholesale copyright infringement and ordered it shut down pending a full trial" (Zeidler). However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Napster "a last-minute stay, saying it needed more time to consider," which has let Napster stay online until a second set of hearings on the case begins (Zeidler).

The second set of hearings, which were prompted by the RIAA's request to reinstate the lower court's injunction against Napster in July 2000 and shut down the service until a final decision in their lawsuit against Napster is reached, ended on October 2, 2000, without reaching a final decision. The three-judge panel in the second set of hearings "decided to allow the popular service (Napster) to continue, pending further deliberations . . . (and) a final decision" (Zeidler). This court battle "has come to be viewed as the first big battle over copyrights in cyberspace, and is expected to define how books, movies and music are distributed on the Internet" (Zeidler). RIAA lawyer Russell Frackman argued "that Napster should be held liable such as when a swap meet owner is held liable for bootleg CD's sold at his market" (Zeidler). Frackman also said that the RIAA was not objecting to the technology or the "digital downloading of music or singles," but does object to "a business model (Napster's) built on infringement" (Zeidler).

Napster's lawyer, David Boies, who was recently the lead Justice Department attorney in the Microsoft anti-trust case, cited "a 1984 legal ruling validating the use of video cassette recorders despite potential copyright infringement uses," as he built his case for Napster (Zeidler). Napster's lawyers also claimed that the RIAA "is trying to keep a chokehold on music distribution and ignores the many legitimate uses Napster software provides" (Zeidler). They went on to claim that Napster "is not responsible for its users' activities," arguing, "that file-sharing among its users for the most part is noncommercial, constituting fair use" (Zeidler). When no final decision was reached in the case after the second set of hearings concluded on October 2, 2000, many insiders predicted that some sort of settlement or compromise would be reached between Napster and the RIAA.

On October 31, 2000, an agreement was reached between Napster and one of the companies that the RIAA represents in this case. To clarify, the RIAA represents, "Seagram Co. Ltd.'s Universal Music, Bertelsmann AG's BMG Entertainment, Sony Corp.'s Sony Music, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music Group and EMI Group Plc." (Zeidler). Napster Inc. "formed an alliance with the parent company of BMG Entertainment (Bertelsmann AG), one of the world's largest music labels, that will lead to a new, copyright-friendly version of the popular music-trading service (Napster)" (Hiatt). Bertelsmann AG "will become a part owner of Napster, drop its copyright infringement lawsuit against the company and make higher-quality music files by such BMG artists as Christina Aguilera, Dave Matthews Band, Santana and Puff Daddy available through the service" (Hiatt).

This new version of Napster, developed with Bertelsmann's eCommerce Group, will "be based on a membership model, with royalties paid to labels, artists, songwriters and music publishers" (Hiatt). Napster CEO Hank Barry said that he "expects that company will charge a monthly membership fee of $4.95 for the service" (Hiatt). Barry went on to add that "Napster will put the new system in place as soon as possible" because BMG company officials had said that they "will not drop (their) lawsuit against Napster until the new version of the service is implemented" (Hiatt). In his statement, Bertelsmann AG's chairman and CEO, Thomas Middelhoff, urged "the other labels (represented by the RIAA in their lawsuit against Napster) to join with Bertelsmann and Napster in the formation of the new version of the service" (Hiatt). However, Ric Dube, an analyst with the research firm Webnoize, said he "expected the other music companies to wait and see how the Bertelsmann-Napster deal unfolds before committing to join," adding that "the appeal of Napster is its ease of use and quick access . . . people won't use a service if there are restrictions" (Zeidler). Napster's future basically depends on how they execute this deal. As hot as Napster is, it currently has no revenues, much less profits (Beato).According to the deal, Napster will receive a loan - sources say it could be as much as $50 million - from Bertelsmann AG to develop a business model for the next version of Napster. The website hopes this version will also include "more community-oriented functionality, including instant messaging, user-created chat rooms, and ways to spotlight new artists" (Eliscu 43 and Beato). This partnership with Napster puts Bertelsmann at the forefront of the major labels' move to officially sell music online (Eliscu 43).

On a personal note, after doing all of this research and constructing the paper, I have come to my own conclusion that Napster helps the music business more than it hurts it. I feel that the facts add up to disprove the main arguments against Napster. One of the main arguments of those against Napster is that it takes away CD sales from the record companies and the RIAA's lawyers have to prove that irreparable harm is going to occur to them in order to get an injunction to shut Napster down, which the facts prove will not be so easy (Greenfeld 66). Although Napster might seem to take away sales from these companies, "CD sales have actually increased in the Napster era—by $500 million this year alone (2000)" (66). What has caused this increase in sales instead of a decrease? I feel that it is because Napster introduces its users to new music and new bands that would not get as much attention otherwise, thus increasing their desires to buy more music. Also, Napster is not capable of committing copyright infringement because only its index and directory of users resides on its central server, not any mp3 files (66). A similar example from the days of cassettes provides evidence of the record companies' irrational fear of new technology ruining the music industry. With the invention of blank cassettes, many executives at record companies thought it was going to ruin the industry. They thought people would not buy cassettes if they could just have their friends make them a tape of the same album. It's been many years since this invention, and the music industry is obviously far from ruined; on the contrary, it's a growing industry that is currently worth around $40 billion (Beato). Many expect that the industry will only grow bigger in the future. Eileen Richardson, a Boston-based venture capitalist who has invested in Napster, has said, "We truly believe it's (the music industry) going to turn into a $100 billion business. And the way that's going to happen is that people are going to get exposed to more artists. The RIAA needs to admit, 'Hey, we don't understand what's going on here on the Internet. Maybe we should try to work with the people who do'" (Beato).

Where does all of this leave Napster? Will their proposed deal with Bertelsmann AG result in other companies joining in on the deal and dropping their lawsuits against Napster as well? Will Napster lose its appeal now that it plans to start charging for its service? Only time will answer those questions but, regardless of what happens in the future, Napster has completely changed both the Internet and the music industry and, in doing so, has assured itself of its place in history.

Works Cited

Beato, G. "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" Spin 2 October 2000: 80.

Beato, G. "Trading Spaces." Spin 1 May 2000: 118.

Cohen, Adam. "A Crisis in Content." Time 26 June 2000: 68-73.

Eliscu, Jenny. "Napster Fights Back." Rolling Stone 22 June 2000: 29.

Eliscu, Jenny. "Napster Goes Legit." Rolling Stone 14-21 Dec. 2000: 43-44.

Gasaway, L. "MP3 and Napster Controversies." Information Outlook August 2000: 44.

Greenfeld, Karl Taro. "Meet the Napster." Time 2 Oct. 2000: 60-68.

Peek, Robin. "Personalized Content from Anywhere." InformationToday July/August 2000: 36.

Hiatt, B. "Update: Napster, BMG parent form alliance." 31 Oct. 2000. Yahoo.

2000, November 1 .

Michael, D. "Win or Lose, Napster has Changed Internet." 2 October 2000. CNN Online. 2 October 2000 .

Sheffield, R. "The Most Dangerous Man in the Music Biz." Rolling Stone 6-20 July 2000: 42-45.

"Universities Shut Down Napster." Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom May 2000: 69, 90.

Zeidler, S. "Napster Hearing Ends without Decision." 2 October 2000. Yahoo. 2 October 2000 .

Zeidler, S. "Bertelsmann has deal with Napster to drop lawsuit." 1 November 2000. Yahoo. 1 November 2000 .


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