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Shed No Tears for Napster!

Shed No Tears for Napster!

by , 2:40 PM EDT, July 28th, 2000

Napster Inc., the privately held corporation, deserves zero support from the online community. Not because they aid the sharing of intellectual property from recording artists, but because they are hypocrites. In fact, the truth about who Napster really is corrupts the whole debate about online music sharing and copyright protection in cyberspace.

Did you know that Napster has a company song? It goes:

"I'm fighting for freedom. Trade laws? We don't need 'em! Especially when living in the Information Age."

While having a company fight song is an embarrassment in itself, what's really horrible is that the folks at Napster don't believe a word of it. Like true pirates these people operate entirely on a double standard.

For instance, did you know that if you were to make a T-shirt with the Napster logo on it the freedom fighters at Napster would send you a cease and desist notice? Just ask those ancient punk rockers, The Offspring, they'll tell you that's exactly what happen to them.

What's up with that? How can a corporation that makes a business out of "sharing" copyrighted music without permission from the music's owners turn around and get legal on those who would borrow their logo? The moral and ethical inconsistencies at Napster's corporate headquarters are astonishing. How do these people sleep at night?

But that's just the tip of the iceberg of deceit that exists in Napster's business model.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The company has refused to share technical information about its software code, has made changes to its software that have prevented other programs from working with Napster's own and has blocked computers from outside music sites from accessing Napster's database of hundreds of thousands of songs.

In fact, Napster's whole business is based on the old proprietary software model that the big OS companies use. You aren't allowed to decompile their program to figure out how it works. That would be a violation of your end user contract.

In a newsgroup post one Napster employee said to those who would write add-ons to the Napster program:

"We can't give you any information because Napster is not some garage organization… but rather an incorporated company with a development team, marketing team, bizdev team and an executive management team. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to have a strong desire to give you all the information you needed…I couldn't. I do, actually, but that is no longer relevant. It's not mine to give anymore, it's the company's" (source: Wall Street Journal)

Napster is not about the Open Source or Open Content movement, in fact, they oppose those forces for an egalitarian Internet as vehemently as the most backwards meatworld record label.

Those who have cracked Napster, such as David Weekly, a Stanford University student, quickly find themselves in legal hot water with Napster's crack lawyers.

Napster even rewrote its code to keep a program called Napigator, written by Chad Boyda, from working. Napigator was designed to expand the choices available to online music traders by allowing users to see not only Napster's music database but also the mushrooming trade in MP3 beyond Napster's control on the so-called Open Nap network.

Furthermore, Napster will not allow anyone to use search agents (bots) to access information in their database in a vain attempt to create an online music database monopoly. If you try to use a bot on Napster you will be summarily dumped from the service with this message, "You have been banned and are being disconnected".

One search engine developer told the Wall Street Journal, "Napster is treating its database as its private property, but it's not Napster's property. It's a list of pirated music."

Napster is an attempt to establish a music distribution monopoly in cyberspace that drags all the corruptions of the old music biz right along with it. Fortunately, it won't work. Napster's leaders are technologically illiterate and have underestimated the power of the Net to work around their transplanted and hypocritical business model.

The Sad Truth About the People Who Run Napster

Napster was invented by Shawn Fanning, a 19-year old ex-Northeastern University student, and some friends he met on the Internet. But now his role at the company is no more than that of poster boy. Once again, the Wall Street Journal, "his actual role at the company is smaller than most people know, including many Napster employees. He owns less than 10% of Napster's stock, according to internal company documents, has no senior-management position and isn't even on its board."

Napster Inc. is owned by a cabal of older and wealthy investors attracted to the Internet by the possibility of landing one of those Internet get rich quick schemes. These are people with only their best interests at heart, who wish only to take the company public and then dump the stock for many thousands of times their original investment on duped retail investors. There is no Linus Torvalds or Marc Andreessen behind this one. It's a scam pure and simple.

Napster's CEO, Mr. Hank Barry a corporate lawyer, was summarily installed by Napster's biggest investor, a venture capital firm. He's about as Web savvy as grandpa and a total pitbull when it comes to defending Napster's right to "share" the music industry products while having the unmitigated gall to attack those who borrow, tweak or emulate Napster's copyrighted products.

Now, Napster's free meal ticket has run out. A court injunction will shut down their hypocritical business midnight tonight. And guess what? Napster users aren't loyal. Already they have begun to fan out across the Net in droves to discover the glories of true Open Source and Open Content, peer to peer networks. They exist. Gnutella's and Freenet's servers are overloading due to the swarms of ex-Napster users trying to download their programs.

Napster's scheme for a cyberspace monopoly on music sharing was only a pipe dream invented by those who did not grok the Web. Their business model was fatally flawed from the beginning -- it merely offered them up as a sacrifical cow to the legal dogs of the recording industry.

The message to the Internet from the court: Don't build an old economy style business with a static IP address based on stealing other people's content.

The question of whether music should be shared online is entirely separate from the confusion that the Napster business has injected into the debate. Now that Napster is gone, perhaps forever, the debate can proceed based on the real issues involved.

Actually, now that Napster is gone, the debate over content sharing on the Internet -- although it will rage on -- has become a moot point. As Ian Clarke, one of Freenet's inventors told the New York Times today, "If someone put a gun to my head and said, 'Shut this down' I would be unable to do so."

Free content on the Internet is an inevitable feature of broadband global networking technology. One could go so far as to claim access to free content as one of the basic civil rights of cyberspace, since the only way to control the distribution of content on the Web, at this point in history, is through the establishment of a global police state -- an unlikely scenario for the immediate future.

For better or worst, the music and film industries, formerly huge and arrogant content monopolies, are going to have to invent new distribution models or go the way of the dinosaurs.

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