So I suppose I'd better write one, hadn't I?
Napster is a popular system that lets millions of people worldwide search and
exchange MP3 audio files via the internet. There's nothing wrong in that per
se, except for the fact that the overwhelming use of the system is for the
unauthorised distribution of copyright material. Now there is a vociferous
minority of people who will defend this by pointing out that they use it as a
"try before you buy" facility, or to obtain long-deleted material unavailable
by any other means. I have some sympathy for these people, but the fact
remains that most of Napster's users are nothing more than thieving cheapskates
along for the free ride.
Napster's protagonists bay to the record industry "adapt! adapt!" but without
actually suggesting any viable alternatives. Per-track charging, DIY
compilation CD kiosks and various other ideas have been devised, but they are
all wasted effort in the presence of the majority of thieving cheapskates.
Given the choice between a full-price CD, a lower-price "something else" or
"everything you want for free", for anyone without a great deal of moral
scruples - which seems to be most of Napster's users - it's a no-brainer
decision. Those who want to pay will, those who don't won't - there's precious
little middle ground worth pursuing.
So the only "adaptation" the record industry can implement is to shut up shop
and forget it altogether. Some seem to consider that a perfect solution, the
end of the evil money-grabbing corporations and their pitiful artist royalty
payments. But let's look at the downside - no more easily available recordings
for anyone not lucky enough to be on the 'net, no more publicity for bands, no
more advances for them to get started in the first place, no more youngsters
being inspired to enter the field. Basically, the entire music scene we know
and love would fall apart at the seams, and just because of the selfish demands
of our thieving cheapskates.
Sure, shut down Napster or begin charging for its use, and the problem goes
elsewhere to somewhere even less accountable - and there are many such systems
waiting in the wings should Napster by taken off-line - so maybe something's
got to give somewhere, and certainly the record companies do have a case to
answer. But just because a wanted criminal jumps the country, changes his name
and wears a false moustache, doesn't make him no longer a wanted criminal; just
because the Napster alternatives are even less accountable than Napster itself
doesn't suddenly make them all right - except in the eyes of our thieving
cheapskates of course.
Then there is Napster's ludicrous protestation that they're not doing anything
illegal anyway! All they say they are doing is enabling users to swap MP3
files, and it's the users' responsibility to make sure they are acting within
the law. Sounds fair enough, until you consider what the attitude might be had
it been kiddie porn or whatever that the system had been specifically set up to
traffic in - "oh, but it's our users' choice". The main reason for these
protestations is of course that Napster is getting huge financial support from
venture capitalist backers, and it wouldn't be good press for them actually to
admit that they are mainly subsidising thieving cheapskates rather than
supporting "the future of the music industry".
This is perhaps why the record industry is pursuing Napster with so much more
vengeance than any of the other services of its ilk - it's commercial piracy by
the back-door, no more, no less. Just because the end-users aren't paying for
the pirate copies doesn't make it not commercial, any more than say Internet
Explorer or Netscape are not commercial web browsers for example. Basically,
Napster should be treated with at least the same contempt as market stalls
selling pirate CDs. Why? Because at the end of the day the only differences
are that someone else is paying for it and that it's at a global scale.
And all the while, the artists are losing out. "Make your money playing live!"
the protagonists protest. However, they conveniently forget that gigging and
so on are loss-leading activities to promote sales of artists' recordings; the
typical pub band barely makes a minimum wage per member on a gig. Take away
the bread and butter of the CD sales and there is simply no future. It may be
true that signed artists don't see much of the revenue from their recordings,
but a little is better than nothing - nothing being all the thieving
cheapskates want their "favourite bands" to get before they have to fold for
lack of revenue.
Is that really what we want the future of our music industry to look like, a
silent and desolate wasteland inhabited only by lamenting cheapskate "music
lovers" nursing the gunshot wounds to their feet?