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The Paradox Of Napster Essay, Research Paper




This chapter introduces the dispute between Napster, Inc., and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the copyrights issue, the subsequent effects on today?s music industry sales, and the abuse of such software on college campuses across America.


Napster, Inc. was founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker in 1999. Shawn was only 19 years old when he wrote the program Napster at Northeastern University. Napster is a software program that allows individuals to freely trade sound files in MP3 format using the Internet.

MP3 stands for ?MPEG Audio Layer 3.? MPEG is the ?Moving Picture Experts Group,? working under the joint direction of the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the International Electro-Technical Commission (IEC). MP3 is, in short, a compression system for digital music. It helps to reduce the number of bytes in a music selection without hurting the overall sound quality. The goal of MP3 is to compress a Compact Disc (CD)-quality music file by a factor of 10 to 14 without sacrificing sound quality .

Napster has attracted a lot of attention because the files that Internet users happen to be trading are illegal copies of songs that have been recorded in the wildly popular MP3 format. Since MP3 format files are greatly reduced in size, they are much easier to store in the user?s computer, making transporting and trading of such files virtually hassle free.


Napster offers an alternative way to distribute MP3 files. Instead of storing songs physically in a central computer on the network, the songs are stored in the user?s computer.

An Internet user would visit www.napster.com and download their free software and install it into his/her computer. The new user would then choose their desired user name and password. When he/she signs on, the software optionally searches the user?s computer?s hard drive(s) for any MP3 format files and catalogues them into a list. This list then becomes the user?s ?library.? This ?library? will eventually become a part of the searchable ?libraries? available to all other users who are signed on.

The current version of Napster only supports Windows 95 & 98 operating system; a Macintosh version of Napster will be available shortly .


It wasn?t long after MP3 gained popularity that thousands of web sites started posting collections of illegal, or copyrighted, MP3 recordings. RIAA immediately took actions and shut down those web sites to protect both the artists? and the music industries? copyrights; offenders were often taken to court. Instead of posting MP3 songs on the Internet for download, Napster allows Internet users to share their personal collections of MP3 to others for download.

Napster made it almost laughably easy for Internet users to find almost any piece of recording music to download. For the music industries, their targeted consumers are teenagers and college students. Instead of spending eighteen dollars to buy a typical CD, people are logging on to Napster to download at least a few songs on a CD, if not the entire album, for free.

There are many federal, state, and international laws and regulations to govern the protection and the rights of the artists. The term ?copyright? is a property law that prohibits unauthorized performance and/or duplication of a created work . In the United States, the copyright concept can even be found as early as 1787, in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The first copyright law was signed by George Washington in 1790. Although it has been revised numerous times, the concept of the law is still aiming to balance the author?s right to collect the benefits of his or her creative work. RIAA believes Napster not only acknowledges the fact that they are violating the copyright laws, but also encourages it.


When Internet users are downloading MP3 music files on Napster rather than buying CDs, whether online or physically going into a music store, it would be very logical to assume that such action hurts the overall CD sales. According to a study conducted by the highly regarded Field Research Corporation of 2,555 college students who regularly use the Internet, it shows a direct correlation between Napster use and decrease of CD sales . Moreover, the study says, ?The more songs Napster users have downloaded, the more apt they are to say explicitly or suggest that Napster has reduced their music purchases.? As for their defense, Napster claims that their sharing-technology is still new enough that no reliable data has yet been gathered concerning the impact on CD sales. Napster even claims that the notion of ?try-before-you-buy? could eventually drive up music sales .

On the other hand, there are artists who unexpectedly choose Napster as a way to promote their music. Beastie Boys release their music in MP3 format often, and they actually see a peak in their album sales. If the notion of ?try-before-you-buy? becomes true one day, then artists and music industries should turn around and compensate Napster.


RIAA feels that they are in a perfect position to take action to bring the protection and rights back to where they belong − to the artists and the music recording industries.

On December 7, 1999, the RIAA and eighteen record companies filed suit against Napster, Inc. for ?contributory and vicarious copyright infringement?. Artists like Metallica and Dr. Dre are also taking full force suing Napster, because they feel that Napster?s users have illegally acquired their music. In response, Napster says their software is nothing more than just a place for Internet users to exchange their personal collections of MP3. Users are responsible for obeying the copyright laws with Napster?s disclaimer, and they should be using the software at their own discretion and risk. Furthermore, Napster also says they reserve the rights to terminate membership of anyone who violates the copyright law, and holders of the copyrights are encouraged to report infringements. Napster does provide the terms of use in detail on their website.

The lawsuit was filed when Napster was only six months old. The suit is still pending today and could take a long time before anything is resolved.


As mentioned earlier, most music industries? target consumers are teenagers and college students. Since colleges spend considerable amounts of money on high-speed internet connections for their campuses, some students are taking advantage of it, and at times, abuse such use for downloading music files on Napster.

College campuses? networks are flooded with Napster use day and night, slowing down the overall bandwidth tremendously. Bandwidth is a measurement for the rate at which data can be transferred. Many universities are experiencing heavy network traffic. Network traffic generally increased by 40 to 50 percent, which heightens the overall network peak to 100 percent. In some extreme cases, it knocks out the entire network for hours, which makes it extremely difficult for the people who are legitimately attempting to complete their academic work .

Earlier this year, almost 100 colleges and universities banned Napster by cutting off the students? access to it. The concern of the copyrights and lawsuits are also another reason for their action. College administrators and computing staffs saw that the overall network traffic dropped down to the normal.

On the other hand, many students feel that their Fist Amendment Right has been violated. Chad Paulson, a sophomore at Indiana University, one of the many institutes that banned the use of Napster, organized Students Against University Censorship (SAUC). In order to fight against universities forbidding the use of Napster on campus, Chad also created the website www.savenapster.com , where people could sign his online petition.

One of the many universities that already forbade the use of Napster is our very own and beloved West Chester University. Our university blocked the students? access to Napster in April, and the block is still remains today. Besides slowing down the network traffic and the legality of trading MP3 files online, security concerns also play a major role in such a ban. According to Academic Computing Center Manager Frank Piscitello, ?The Napster program actually turns your computer into a server and many users do not know that their computer has been opened up.?


Napster?s issues and concerns seem to raise many eyebrows. One could argue that Napster is walking on thin ice. Whether they are good or bad, Napster will undergo scrutiny for some period of time before anything is resolved. It will be very interesting to see the outcome. Whatever the outcome, we feel that it will have a tremendous impact on whether or not other companies will be allowed to implement similar tactics in the future.

Realistically speaking, the genie of the bottle is out and there is no going back. Although Napster is ordered to be shut down tomorrow, technological advances are to be expected, and will inevitably replace the older inventions. At this point, we feel that Napster is just another stepping stone for technology to stride forward. Our objective, in Chapter 2 to support this view with evidence.

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