In America, there is currently a lawsuit pending that threatens to change the face of the music industry. The lawsuit is against Napster it has been brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as well as other major music labels.
Napster is a virtual community, which consists of music news and chat-rooms, the main feature it offers is an easy way to download MP3's (music files). This controversial service has brought the lawsuit to Napster. Napster allows its subscribers to download the music files without charge. It is not however, from Napster that the subscribers get these files. It is from each other. The users share their hard drives so that other users can download any of their music files that they want.
The RIAA believe that Napster has helped users infringe copyright. The threat of the lawsuit has been around since the conception of Napster and was actually filed four months after Napster went on line. The case is not as clear-cut as it first appears. RIAA argues that most of the MP3's on Napster's site are mainly pirated. Therefore, by Napster allowing and actually making it easier for users to download MP3's this means that they are assisting Copyright infringement.
Napsters defence is according to some legal experts, quite strong, especially as there are two cases that can be seen as setting precedents. The most recent being the RIAA suit against Diamond Multimedia. This company produces the 'Rio' a portable MP3 player. The RIAA felt the Rio ruined digital distribution as it played both legal and illegal MP3's. The judges ruling was in favour of Diamond Multimedia saying
'Rio is a playback only device, and therefore not subject to regulation.'
RIAA Suing Upstart Startup by Jennifer Sullivan
The other case is from 1976 and involves Sony. This case relates indirectly; the movie industry sued Sony over the then new videocassette recorder (VCR). History seems to be repeating itself as Napster was found guilty in a lower court so was Sony.
'That court too, focused on how the technology was actually being used at the time the suit was being brought. As the case wound its way through the appeals process, however, the uses change …that helped sway the supreme court in Sony's favour'
J.L Napster has history on its side- kind of
This suit was filed by the RIAA in December 1999. Right now however, it is winding its way through the appeal courts. Napster is still in operation today as an appellant judge in the San Francisco courts overturned the verdict of a lower court judge that wanted Napster to shut down until a final verdict was reached.
Right now the case seems to be at a standstill. With one twist, one of the record companies that has brought this lawsuit against Napster has broken ranks and struck a deal to shape the future of Napster.
Bertelsmann is a German company and is thought by many spectators to, realistically be the only company that would be willing to work with Napster. Bertelsmann appears to have taken on the role of an arbitrator and it is hoped that they will create harmony between the music industry and Napster. By making a deal with Napster first also benefits Bertelsmann as they can get the best deal for their company, it also means that they will not waste more money on this long lawsuit that could last many more years. Napster sees the deal favourably.
'Bertelsmann will help us reach an acceptable solution wit the labels and the publishers that will allow us to compensate artists, resolve the legal dispute and grow our service to meet the needs of our expanding user base that is a manner that is consistent with Napster's values'
Napster obviously feels that this deal will allow them to move forward, while still having control.
Napster also feels that Bertelsmann will help with the solution to end this lawsuit. Napster is trying to convince its users that it will not change, but will be enhanced by this deal. Napster also states its plans to keep the site very community based by telling the users that they want their input in to how the company should move forward.
When Napster posted 'Napster/Bertelsmann Q&A' on its site after the deal was announced one of the questions was 'Will Napster still continue to be a free service?' The answer was contradictory. Napster argued that it still would be a free service but users should expect to pay a small membership fee. Since then this has changed, users should actually expect to pay a monthly subscription fee one sum that has been suggested is $4.95, for unlimited use. This does create the solution to the lawsuit.
'Napster can thrive and the record industry can turn 'pirates' back into paying customers.'
Great move, Napster Larry Magid
This will change the face of Napster whether they want to admit it or not. When Shawn Fanning the 19 year old created this site it was for music lovers to download music with ease it was also meant to be a way for new up and coming bands to be noticed, and for fans to discover artists that they may not have access to in their native countries. Music lovers could come together and chat about their love for music. Now whether this lawsuit is seen through to the end or not, Napster will never be the same.
Bertelsmann has regained control of the situation for the music industry. This does not hold out much hope for the music industry to change. Observers of this case have said that Napster is a protest against the price of records and that by users subscribing to Napster would be showing the record companies that they will not stand for that any more. If this was their protest then this has not worked for two reasons, one that record sales have increased since Napster went on line. Two the record companies now have control of Napster so again record purchasers do not have a choice but to pay the industries asking price.
This lawsuit and the partnership that has come out of it shows that MP3 companies can no longer expect to be independent, if they want to run without opposition.
If the lawsuit does continue and the Music industry won it would not necessarily be the end of Napster as the laws are only state bound. Napster could easily relocate and continue. This lawsuit had the potential to change the music industry forever, making prices more competitive. Napster had a good chance of winning the lawsuit now we may never know the result as Bertelsmann has led the way for a fairly quick solution that will benefit the record companies so once again the fans miss out.
1. RIAA Suing Upstart Startup
By Jennifer Sullivan (Date Published Nov.15, 1999 Date Downloaded Nov.16 2000)
2. Napster: Music is for sharing
By Jennifer Sullivan (Date Published Nov.15, 1999 Date Downloaded Oct.16 2000)
3. This Lawsuit Is Cranking Up the Volume over MP3
Mike France (published 12/13/99 downloaded 16/10/00) http://www.businessweek.com/ebiz/9912/ep1213.htm
4. Napster plays dodgeball with music biz
Robert Lemos (published 13/08/99 downloaded 16/10/00) http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2314760,00.html
5. RIAA sues Napster, Claiming 'Music Piracy'
Brain Hiatt (published 17/10/00 downloaded 20/10/00) http://www.sonicnet.com/news/archive/story.jhtml?id=569952
6. Studios sue MP3 startup Napster
Jack McCarthy (published 12/9/99 download 20/10/00) http://www.cnn.com/199/TECH/coputing/12/09/napster.suit.idg/index.html
7. Court Debates shutting down Napster
Sharon Epperson (published 26/10/00 downloaded 30/10/00) http://www.msnbc.com/news/471169.asp?cp1=1
8. Testimony of Shawn Fanning
(Published 26/10/00 Downloaded 30/10/00) http://www.napster.com/pressroom001031.html
9. Napster/Bertelsmann Q&A
(Published 11/11/00 Downloaded 15/11/00) http://www.napster.com/pressroom/qanda.html
10. News Flash
(Published 11/11/00 Downloaded 15/11/00) http://www.napster.com/pressroom001031b.html
11. Napster Has
Clay Shirky (Published 1/11/00 Downloaded 15/11/00) http://www.feedmag.com/templates/daily.php3?a_id=1381
12. Napster has history on its side-kind of
JL (Published 22/11/00 Downloaded 22/11/00) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/000918/digital.b.htm