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To Download or Not to Download

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The Internet is an extremely useful resource to obtain information on just about any topic. A relatively new feature of the World Wide Web is the technology for the sharing of music in MP3 format. A popular site to download "free" music is called Napster. This program allows people to share music files, discover new artists, and become part of the music community. Although Napster is controversial, the program should still remain accessible to Internet users and music lovers.

Marc Geiger, a supporter of the program, states that "Napster is Ð''totally community oriented," ("NapsterÐ'..."). It brings artists and fans together, and can allow struggling musicians a chance to be heard; that's what the program is all about. "The more people hear the songs, the more they want {to} buy the CD" ("NapsterÐ'..."). The struggling musicians who aren't making millions from one CD release are the avid supporters of Napster. Richardson is promoting the good side of the software, and trying to make upset artists understand that this program is for the little guys. "Its software aims to make finding MP3 files easier one the Net" (RIAA). Another advantage of the program is that it allows finding music files easier instead of having to search the entire World Wide Web.

Napster is an MP3 file-sharing program that enables users to share their music with one another. Anyone with a computer can download the program, sign the user agreement contract and then start swapping music. The program includes chat features, a top music sharing list, searching capabilities, a chart that shows the status of the file transfer, a "library," and a help section. The chat rooms allow for conversation between the different users, and shows information on the people in the room. The search feature allows the music consumer to search by song title, artist, bit rate, ping time, and connection. The file transfer element of the program allows the customer to see how much of the file is downloaded, the estimated time for the transfer to finish, the name of the host of the music, how big the file is, and the filename, (song title, and artist usually). The "library" is a music file holder that sorts the downloaded music files alphabetically. It allows has a music player, which can play an assortment of already downloaded music chosen by the consumer in any order. The program is easy to use and does not contain too much technical jargon. Napster could be considered a support group for music consumers in that they can connect with one another and share ideas along with music.

A Northeastern student named Shawn Fanning developed Napster in a college dorm room to share ideas and music with his friends. He wanted to be able to play a friend's song without having to constantly borrow the CD. "Napster software combines chat features and a music player, lets users share their MP3 libraries with each other"("RIAAÐ'..."). The program that Fanning developed uses MP3 music files to transfer from one computer hard drive to the next. An MP3 file is simply a compressed file. MP stands for MPEG (Motion Picture Experts Group), and three refers to the number of layers. "MP3 files are about one-tenth the size of uncompressed audio files" ("Mp3 MusicÐ'..."). One minute of music on a compact disc takes up about 1 megabyte of memory with MP3 compression; without it the same one-minute would take up to 10 megabytes of memory on the computers hard drive ("What itÐ'...").

The bad rap that Napster has built up is due to the "pirated MP3 files" and major artists creating negative media attention. David Weekly, the company's audio consultant said, "this is a really awful move on the RIAA's part. If what they're trying to do is prevent programs like Napster from coming out, they gave every teenage hacker the incentive to write their own" ("RIAAÐ'..."). Weekly emphasizes that any media attention is good attention. Due to Napster's success, three other music file sharing sites became known for distributing "pirated" files:,, and Launch Media. Dave Goldberg, the CEO of Launch Media, said, "there's going to be lots of different ways to get pirated music, this is just a different way,"("NapsterÐ'..."). Some other ways to acquire pirated music are recording off the radio, recording a compact disc onto a cassette, or burning a copy of a compact disc. The MP3 software promotes piracy and has security problems, but it's also "still in beta," ("RIAAÐ'..."). Loses in which the recording industry has endured is due to Napster, the RIAA states (Huffstutter).

This program is a little more than a year old and causing controversy because of the copyright infringement laws. The contributory copyright infringement, which Napster is being sued for by the RIAA, is solely the user's fault. "The software user agreement says that Ð''copying or distributing unauthorized MP3 files may violate United States and foreign copyright laws. Compliance with the copyright law remains your responsibility" ("NapsterÐ'..."); this is taken from the contract of the Napster program. The user must read and convey an agreement with the contract, in order to sign on to Napster after the program is downloaded to the computer's hard drive. The fan who is downloading illegal files is the person who should be sued, not the program. "The downloading of any copyrighted music from the Web without permissionÐ'--even for one-time or personal useÐ'--is illegal" (France). The penalty for "contributory and vicarious copyright infringement" is up to $100,000 for each song that was downloaded using Napster (France). Obviously the RIAA is not going to prosecute everyone that broke this law, because there is no way of tracking down everyone.

The RIAA has not produced any viable statistics, only statements and claims. Besides, Napster is principally used to sample artists and/or songs, if the user likes the sample then the CD will be bought. "Word of Web is infinitely more efficient that word of mouth" (Dyson). A lot of the songs on the Napster community are unsigned bands that need the free publicity. "Word of Web" requires rules and standards that have not been created yet.

New bills have been introduced before the courts to try and distinguish what is legal or illegal to download. One such bill is the Digital Millennium Copyright act; as a result of this act the accused Web sites can not be sued for illegal activity, but it is legal to prosecute the user of the



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