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Napster: Problem Or Solution? Essay, Research Paper

In mid-1999, 19 year old Northeastern University student Shawn Fanning designed a computer

program that allowed one to log on to a central server, and be able to download mp3 music files

from another computer at lightning speed, with great ease. He called this program Napster, after

his old high school nickname. Since it’s inception, Napster has sparked court cases involving

every major record company in North America, and created a worldwide debate about copyright

infringement and it’s effects on the music industry.

Napster is a peer to peer file-sharing program designed specifically for the exchange of MPEG 1

Layer 3,also known as MP3, digital audio files. These files are super-compressed audio that

would normally be more than ten times larger than they are as MP3s. This is because MP3s

special coding cuts down on file size while maintaining nearly all noticeable sound quality.

Because of this people use MP3s to record songs and store them on their computers. They can be

played using many different pieces of audio software available such as Nullsoft’s Winamp and

Microsoft Windows Media Player. Napster is designed to facilitate the easy searching and

exchanging of MP3 files by allowing users to search for specific songs or artists and displaying a

list of those songs available through other Napster users. This is great for users who want to

enjoy free music but the record companies aren’t quite as happy about this. They are concerned

that Napster steals money from them and the artists that they represent. This is because if

Napster users get songs for free from other users, they won’t be paying the record companies for

CDs. Luckily for the record companies, there are laws in place to protect interests such as theirs.

These laws are called copyright laws. They prevent people from using, distributing, or selling

things that are not theirs. By having music that one did not buy on a CD, or distributing music

through programs such as Napster, one is committing copyright infringement. The record

companies are so angry about all of this that they have decided to take it to court. Since they can

not sue all of the thousands and thousands of Napster users who are committing copyright

infringement, they have decided to sue Napster itself instead. This would effectively eliminate

the source of the problem as most MP3 exchange today is done through Napster. The problem is

that Napster is never actually committing copyright infringement, as Napster is never actually in

possession of illegal MP3 files. They are never stored in, nor do they travel through Napster’s

server. The server merely record the name and location of the files and routes users together in

order to exchange files. Once the users have been connected the file is transferred directly from

one user to another and the Napster server is no longer involved. Because of this design, the

record companies have decided to accuse Napster of facilitating copyright infringement. This

means that they did not actually steal any music but they help user do so. Right now the case is

still going on. In early August, the courts decided that Napster must shut down its server,

effectively cutting off all of its users. This was handed down in the form of an injunction.

Shortly after, the decision was appealed and the case continued. Napster went back online, and

the court case is continued. Recently Bertelsmann, owner of BMG Records, dropped its part of

the suit and settled out of court with Napster. Some individual bands have also decided to act

against Napster, but in a different way. Metallica, a band widely known as the most popular

heavy metal band today, hired a consulting firm to record the username and IP addresses of users

who had illegally shared or downloaded their songs over a period of days. They delivered the list

of hundreds of thousands of users to Napster headquarters and demanded that these users be

kicked off of the service. They were. Other musicians such as rap superstar and forefather Dr.

Dre have followed suit. Many users who were kicked off have become very angry and Metallica

has received a lot of negative media attention as a result of their actions. Other bands, on the

other hand, see Napster as an easier way to new bands to get heard, a way to take away some of

the power from the strangle holds of a few giant media conglomerates that control the music

industry, and as the new wave in music distribution. Either way, one thing is for sure: MP3s, the

Internet, and Napster has and will continue to seriously change the way that recorded music is


How Napster Works:

1. Napster is downloaded and installed on a personal computer. It is available as a completely

free download from http://www.napster.com. It is now available to users of all recent versions of

either Microsoft Windows or Apple’s Mac OS. The only other requirement is a connection to the

Internet. A faster Internet connection is beneficial because the faster the connection, the faster

one can download music.

2. The software enables the PC to log on to Napster’s server. The server is the center of the

Napster service. It keeps virtual “libraries” of the songs that each Napster user has. Whenever a

user logs in, their computer reports to the server what songs they are sharing in these libraries.

When a search is made, the server checks its database for any other Napster users who are online

and have the file that the searcher is looking for. A search can be made using the criteria of title

and artist.

3. If the server finds 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. Each computer on

the Internet has an address. This is called an IP address. Depending on the type of service that

one uses to connect to the Internet, IP addresses can either be static or dynamic. Static IP

addresses are always the same while dynamic IP addresses change every time that the user

connects to the internet. Cable modems use static IP addresses while telephone, Digital

Subscriber Lines (DSL) use dynamic IP addresses. There are pros and cons to each system. The

main criticism of static IP addresses is that hackers can get a user’s IP address and take as long

as they need to in order to work on breaking into their system. Hackers can not do that if one’s

IP address changes every time that they connect. Providers of static IP address services use

firewalls in order to help prevent such unwanted tampering by hackers. Firewalls are available in

two forms, hardware and software. Hardware firewalls are separate devices that attach to a

personal computer, a network, or a server. Software firewalls are pieces of software in a PC or

network server. Both types of firewalls perform the same function. They monitor information

between a user and the Internet. They are programmed to detect and eliminate any unwanted

exchanges of information from occurring, such as a hacker attempting to infiltrate a user’s


The Arguments: Napster, the Record Companies, the Artists

Artists whose music is shared on the Napster network are very divided on the issue of whether

the service is to be shut down. Several artists have taken very prominent stances for or against

the program. While some have brought forth legal proceedings against the company, others have

embraced it and openly admit its benefits.

In May 2000, Lars Ulrich, drummer from the rock band Metallica, delivered a list of 317,377

names of Napster users names to the company who were later banned, as he demanded that

Napster restrict access to the band’s music. The site subsequently banned 230,142 users who

downloaded mp3’s of rapper Dr. Dre. Metallica and Dr. Dre later filed identical copyright

infringement lawsuits against Napster.

Later, in July, Ulrich took the case up a notch before the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying

that Congress needs to pass new laws to protect copyrighted music against Napster and other

Internet music-download services.

Then, in September, Howard King, a Los Angeles attorney who represents Metallica and Dr.

Dre, sent letters earlier this month to about a dozen prominent educational institutions asking

campus administrators to restrict access to Napster. Duke University, Stanford University and

the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently rejected these requests to halt the use of

Napster. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) also has declined to impose a

ban. On the opposing side, Yale University , University Of Indiana, and the University of

Southern California decided to implement the ban. These requests, as well as the actual suit,

were still unresolved at the time of writing this essay.

Alternately, there are several artists that have embraced the technology. The Offspring originally

had some problems with the company, as they used the Napster logo on merchandise without the

company’s permission. However, they have since reached an agreement and continue to sell the

merchandise and support all of Napster’s efforts to remain functional. The funds from the

merchandise are going to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

During July and August of this year, rock band Limp Bizkit reached an agreement with Napster

to perform in a series of free tour dates, sponsored by the company, with the band receiving no

profits. They also brought rappers Cypress Hill on the tour. They have also made statements

openly supporting their decisions and encouraging users to continue taking advantage of the

service, calling it an excellent way to expose people to new music. In fact, on Napster’s web site,

there is an entire feature on artists’ statements supporting Napster, by performers such as

Madonna and Prince.

Finally, rapper Chuck D. received serious criticism when he posted four of his newest songs in

mp3 format on his internet home, and actually spoke in front of Congress in May to speak of his

experiences and opinions on Napster and it’s effects on music as a business and an


Even without going into much depth as to the reasons behind their stances, the chasm between

some artists regarding Napster and mp3 is huge, and while some artists only mildly represent

one side or the other, several have taken huge steps in the direction that they feel is right.

The Napster-Bertelsmann Agreement

Napster, of Redwood City, California and Bertelsmann, of Germany have recently formed a

strategic alliance. Bertelsmann, the media conglomerate and owner of BMG music, has decided

to make a large financial investment in Napster to give it a much needed injection of capital.

They have also agreed to drop the lawsuit brought on by BMG, their record company, that is

similar to the suit brought on by other record companies. The lawsuit was a multimillion-dollar

case brought on against Napster by many of the world’s largest and most powerful media

empires. They were suing Napster for facilitating copyright infringement by allowing users to

exchange MP3 files that had been illegally copied without consent or royalty paid to the record

companies. They will also put BMG music on Napster to be available to all Napster users. In

return, Napster intends to make a huge concession that some believe will compromise the

original intent and current appeal of the program. They intend to charge a monthly user fee to all

Napster users to allow them to access the service. The impact of this concept is yet unknown,

and can only truly be known once implemented. Napster has promised advanced warning before

any change of this size takes place. They are asking for the opinions of users about the proposed

change. Many users are concerned about the effect that this will have on them. They are worried

that the number of users will decline sharply and there will thereby be far less music to choose

from. They are also concerned that the fee will be more than many users would be willing to

pay. Napster has created a whole new mindset for many people about the entire concept of

getting and having music. They have fostered the idea that music is free for all to access and

have. It will be very hard for them to change this revolution that they themselves had a huge part

in creating. It is hypocritical of them to talk about Napster and free music being the “new wave”

and that this is the new direction that the music industry must go in, and then turn around and

start charging a fee. Some have even questioned whether or not Napster will survive this change.

Whatever happens as a result of this new policy and business plan, one effect that most experts

agree on is the fact that other similar services that are actually free will gain in popularity if

Napster decides to charge a user fee. Some other services such as Gnutella are already available.

It is very different because unlike Napster, Gnutella has no server. The Gnutella program

searches for MP3s directly on other user’s computers rather than on a centralized server. This

makes a profound difference because without a centralized server there is nothing to shut down

if the company is sued. The downside to Gnutella and programs like it is that it is slower, less

effective, and less user friendly than Napster. These issues should be resolved eventually and the

process should speed up if Napster decides to charge a user fee because the demand for a free

and viable alternative will jump.

In Closing:

The answers to these questions are held, more than anywhere else, in the hands of the major

record companies. Bertelsmann’s BMG is no longer an issue, but Sony, Epic, and several others

have not yet shown an interest in Napster’s continuation. The only apparent way for the program

to continue would be to reach an agreement with the aforementioned companies and find some

way to record and charge users a subscription fee, while paying these fees to the appropriate

corporations and, therefore, artists. In return, Napster would avoid the multimillion dollar suit in

currently faces and, depending on it’s success at that point, perhaps even be a profitable


This idea, however, does have some faults. For example, one must examine how many users

would cease to use Napster with its proposed subscription charge. There are several other

programs available that, since they have no central server, would be impossible to shut down.

These programs, on the other hand, are not as user friendly as Napster, and therefore some users

may decide to pay for its ease.

As one can deduce from the information presented in this essay, the court case involving Napster

and the Recording Industry Association of America is a complex one with no definite right

answer. It seems impossible to please the artists, the record companies, and Napster users all

with one solution. In the meantime, Napster is a huge force in the dynamic of music today and

continues to be enjoyed by thousands of users every day.



http://www. time.com TIME magazine archives

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