Dwight Watt Internet Article #50

#50 - Napster…What should be done? 9/3/2000

#50 - Napster…What should be done?

In the current court cases is an interesting case involving Napster, an Internet company. For those of you who are not aware of the case (then you are probably over 30 years old) , Napster is an Internet site that allows you to find someone else who has a copy of a song you want available on the Internet and then you copy (download) that song from the other individual. This has been extremely popular with young people and has led to a court challenge saying that Napster is allowing illegal copying of songs.

The issues seem to be several. First does it hurt anyone, second is Napster illegal, third where does copyrights come in, and fourth who owns what.

Does Napster hurt anyone? The recording artists and songwriters are all claiming that it hurt their sales and income. This is basically the same argument that has been made several times in past with several different solutions occurring. The songwriters raised same objections when performers did not pay for live performances. That is now handled through two organizations. The movie industry raised same issues with videos and copying and then the rental business. Oddly they found more people in theaters and sales of videos even though their were rentals and vast copying. Now they are dealing with it again with DVD. The print industry went through it with the advent the Xerox machine and continues to fight about the issue. The software industry is currently fighting this fight.

A question that often comes up is how many would have bought the song if they could not have copied it. Interesting interviews with many of these young people is that they are still buying as much, but downloading many they probably would not have bought. Does radio play (you can record off the radio or Internet radio) hurt sales?

I used to be that people only traded within their community for recording. What was their community? Usually the high school or college they attend or the town they live in. However the Internet has moved us to where we are now a global village, so now your community is the world. This is where Napster came in. It is the way to connect to our colleagues for finding collections.

Is Napster illegal? It appears to me that it is legal. They are not doing the copying, or storing of the music. They are merely providing a program to allow you to find others who have songs you want. When the copying occurs it does not involve the use of Napster. If they are illegal then are the search engines illegal in that they allow us to find copyrighted material (text, graphics, videos, music, etc) that we can then copy down to our PC? Are the copying machines in every office illegal as they provide the means for some one to make copies of copyrighted print material and with today's machines copies that are as good as the original?

What does a copyright mean? It means that an intellectual material belongs to the author of it. This article belongs to me. The song belongs to the songwriter who wrote it. According if their material is used they should receive fair compensation for it. Sometimes this means money, sometimes all they request is that they be recognized as author and told when and where published. Does the general public think this? As a general rule I think they are fuzzy on this. Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

Who owns what? That again deals with the copyright issue, but also that we are not always clear in saying what we mean. We buy a newspaper. Does that mean we bought what is in it? Do we own the articles? We buy music on a CD. Do we own the music or just the copy or just a license to use the copy? We buy software on a CD. Then if you read the license all you bought was a license to use it, but do the ads even on the software company sites say this? If I buy a car, do I only have a license from GM to use the car or can I do what I want with it? Who owns the song on the CD we bought? Us as the buyer of the CD? The songwriter of the song? The performer who performed the song?

These are questions that we must answer. The courts are having to grapple with them. In the case of Napster I think what they have done appears legal. They are not doing the copying or storing. Their users are doing the illegal activities. However the question there is whether the recording industry would be better off to not pursue it or is it doing real harm. Even if they did succeed in shutting down Napster, rest assured something else would appear elsewhere beyond the control of the American courts that would do same or worse on the Internet. Remember the Internet is global, not American (even though we play ugly American by not putting .us on our addresses while requiring everyone else to do so with their country letters) and cannot be controlled by the USA.


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