Record execs fight Napster nightmares
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2000. First
published in Vancouver Computes,
As a teacher, it?s useful for me to know which kids in
a class are the
computer sophisticates?the ones who can be a lot of help if they?re on
my side, and the ones I need to watch if they?re not. Last year, my
and dirty test was to ask the class ?Who?s heard of ICQ?? The ones who
put up their hand were on the elementary school cutting edge.
This year, my question has changed to ?Who?s heard of
fail, the grade 6 and 7 kids who are aware of this program (even if
learned of if from their older siblings) are the ones I want to know
ICQ and Napster have some things in common. Both are
free, and seemingly
in perpetual beta. Both use the Internet?and both allow users to build
a sort of customized instant community.
ICQ (now owned by the AOL empire) is sort a mutated
cross between traditional
chat and e-mail. When you get a friend?s ICQ number, and enter it in
copy of the program, you can see when your friend is online and running
the program. If that?s the case, you can send her or him instant
Kids in the know assemble large list of friends, acquaintances, friends
of friends, and can spend lots of time chatting away?without the
of chat rooms that are open to strangers.
Napster similarly builds personalized lists?this time,
of people with
similar musical tastes. It was created by a genuine teenager, 18 year
Shawn Fanning of San Mateo, CA, to make it easier for computer
to locate MP3 music files.
In case you haven?t been paying attention, MP3s are
music files, compressed
to take up less space and download more quickly. The explosive rise of
popularity of the format has worried the traditional music industry.
aren?t illegal-- independent bands have started posting MP3s of their
on the Web, sometimes for free, sometimes charging a nominal fee per
as a way of promoting their music outside the established record
networks. More established acts may post a single song or parts of
from their CDs sort of like the preview for a movie. In last month?s
column we saw how easy it was to digitally record a school concert and
post the music on the school?s Web site.
All these activities are legal?the creator of a
choosing to use the Internet to share their music. Similarly, there?s
problem with users compressing copies of songs from CDs they own and
them in the new MP3 hardware devices, like Diamond?s Rio or Creative?s
Nomad?smaller than a CD Discman, with no skips.
But posting the songs from a CD you?ve bought onto the
Net for anyone
to download, is music piracy?potentially costing the music industry
of CDs. And there are suggestions that the term ?MP3? has replaced
as the most popular phrase on some Internet search engines. As a
the industry organization RIAA (Recording Industry of American
has been trying to track down and shut down Web sites posting pirated
Napster?s Web site doesn?t have any MP3s for
download?just the Napster
application. But when you run Napster on your computer, it connects to
napster.com, and plugs you into the database of other Napster users who
are online at this time. As I write, it claims to be in touch with
?libraries?, containing some 880,000 songs?a total of about 3.5
worth. Type in the name of a song or an artist, and you?re presented
a list of currently online Napster users with a copy of the song in the
folders on their drives they?ve chosen to share, along with their
speed. Not surprisingly, you can find lots of copies of current pop
when I typed the names of country legend Hank Williams and jazz great
Coltrane in, there were also lots of choices. (But nothing for somewhat
more obscure jazzer Ornette Coleman).
You?re not downloading the song from Napster, you?re
directly from someone else who shares your taste in music?hence the
below the program?s icon: ?Napster Music Community?.
Not surprisingly, the RIAA is not impressed?and has
filed suit against
Napster. Equally unimpressed are some university and business network
At Northwestern University, near Chicago, for example, network
Roger Safian suggested that Napster-related connections had grown to 20
to 30% of the traffic on their high-speed network. In response, the
blocked access to all Napster.com Internet addresses. Similar steps
been reportedly taken by a number of other universities, and at least a
few business networks.
One result has been student petitions to get access to
But even if Napster is shut down as a result of the RIAA?s actions or
IP address is blocked, it may be too late to get any real control over
this sort of music distribution. Stanford student David Weekly simply
the specifications for a Napster server, and posted them on the Web (http://david.weekly.org/code/napster.php3)?now
computer science students can put up their own servers.