Many musicians and mangers claim that Napster will destroy the industry but does compiled data correlate with those sentiments? Record industry tracker SoundScan shows that there is declining CD sales at record stores near universities. What the data SoundScan compiled says is that record sales are down four percent over the last two years at record stores near universities, and this data is in comparison with an overall sales growth of about twenty percent across the music retailing industry. In addition, in record stores near the sixty-seven colleges that have banned Napster, the universities cited an overload on their internal networks, sales have dropped seven percent over the last two years. Napster is not the only reason for the decline in record sales at record stores near universities. Other competition, such as online music stores and rewritable CD copies of store-bought CDs, could be responsible for the drop in sales as well. Jack Kirk, who manages an independent record store near Northwestern University says, "It costs major labels less than one dollar to make a Pearl Jam album, but the list prices are nearly twenty dollars. They've (the record industry) precipitated this themselves-it's ridiculous. The major label companies are run by extremely evil people; I'm sorry, but there's no other way to say it."
Napster is just the tip of the iceberg that is file-sharing on the Internet. Some experts' feel that Napster has done for piracy what America Online did for the Internet: put its technology within reach of the digital masses. Does Napster condone social values that encourage illegal activity? If a person has no problem downloading a copyrighted song perhaps that person would have no problem taking food from a supermarket without paying for it. As the Internet overcomes today's size and speed barriers, technologies such as Napster could be used to trade everything from full-length movies to computer operating systems-basically anything that can take a digital form.
The music industry is the only major industry to be severely affected by file-sharing software but down the road technology is heading that shouldn't remain the case for long. The movie industry, primarily the major studios, fears that once digital revolutionaries find roads wide enough to transport their spoils that the entire film establishment could be underminded. How heavily are ISPs involved in the quandary of piracy on the Internet? By offering faster Internet connections, ISPs are adding to the risk of piracy online. Should the gateway to online entertainment be held responsible for what happens when a user is online? Would a theme park be held responsible for any transgressions a paying customer made, like stealing someone's purse, while inside the theme park? These are questions that need to be answered as we, the Internet users of the world, push into the 21st century.
Obviously copyright laws are going to have to adapt due mainly to Napster and other programs like it. Clearly, file-sharing software has heralded the dawn of a new era in the music industry. What is the correct way to deal with Napster? Should Napster be liable for millions of dollars to the artists who have had copyrighted material traded by people using Napster's file-sharing software? Robin Gross, a staff attorney for an Internet civil liberties group, chimed in with this sentiment, "Copyright to a large extent will have to change. But in many ways, no matter how it changes, it will be outpaced by technology. So we're better off letting the technology work its way through society, and let society decide what appropriate rules and what appropriate laws to have, rather than trying to impose the old legal system onto this new technology."
Napster is the easy target for attackers, like the RIAA and Metallica, because it uses a centralized database, which allows the company some control over its users (and keeps a list of transfers handy for potential litigants). Some newer systems allow users to search in a distributed manner that can't be shut down or modulated. One such system is Gnutella, which could be used to exchange not just music files but any files, including movies, text and photos-a copyright holder's nightmare. Even more radical than Gnutella and Napster is FreeNet, which is decentralized and has safeguards to protect the privacy and identity of users. The creator of FreeNet, Ian Clarke, a twenty-three year old Irish computer scientist, has a wish to liberate intellectual property. Clarke says, "My opinion is that people who rely on copyright probably need to change their business model."
Fifteen years ago record executives worried about "mixes" being made on cassette tapes and today they worry about "mixes" being burned on recordable compact discs. The reality is that the music industry has changed and evolved to the point of no return, no matter the outcome of the lawsuits by the RIAA, Metallica and Dr. Dre versus Napster. Making a profit off of musicians will need to be done outside of the current system, which would be album sales for example. Digital downloads are the wave of the present and future, and although the music industry was late to jump on the digital bandwagon, record companies are now looking to place computer coding onto digitally programmed music, which would include MP3's and compact discs, as soon as possible. The codes will lead listeners to have to pay for music they want to trade in the future by use of a credit card. How successful computer coding turns out to be for the recording industry is a mystery, because technology-savvy music fans will likely find a loophole around computer coding, which will lead to more headaches for the recording industry.
Meanwhile, the Napster Generation keeps searching for tunes, keeps downloading them and doesn't bother with concepts like intellectual property. The reality is that there is very little the record companies can do about music that's already out there, it's free for people to copy. Further analysis will bring modifications, the lawsuits will be settled and listeners will hear a forty billion-dollar industry changing the way it does business.