By Robert Menta- 3/06/01
"I am sad to see Napster bending to the record labels' will," said Matt Goyer. "Let's preserve it and we'll move it offshore where the record industry can't touch it."
With those words Goyer - a co-founder of Fairtunes.com, a virtual "tip jar" where Napster users can send cash directly to the artists whose work they download - announced plans to circumvent the legal misfortunes of Napster by setting up a clone of the service off the coast of Great Britain.
The 21year old Canadian is the first of possibly many looking to grab a piece of Napster's 64 million users by locating their business beyond the reach of US copyright law. A T1 line in a sympathetic, i.e. destitute, foreign economy is all one needs to broadcast over a border-less Internet. The potential host for the Goyer's clone, HavenCo Ltd., is not even located on any land-mass, but on the Atlantic seaboard on an ocean platform called Sealand. HavenCo rents Internet servers and data storage space to those specifically seeking to avoid government laws like online gambling services. Offshore there are no laws to prevent such operations from running.
A series of legal victories for the music industry has already set the stage for Napster's demise. This Monday U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued her revised injunction which gave Napster 72 hours to remove all copyright material from its system or be charged with contempt of court. With the initial failure of the company's filtering software, it looks like Napster will be forced to take more drastic action to effectively purge enough music to satisfy the court. Such action will gut Napster and drive its audience to seek other options.
Some of these options, like Gnutella and Freenet, are long established, but they are less user friendly than Napster. Part of this is because they facilitate trades without the need of a centralized server, a move which protects them from being sued as there is no one source to sue, but subjects them to significant bottleneck problems.
A Napster clone using a centralized server would immediately have a significant competitive advantage over Gnutella and Freenet if it could be located beyond the music industry's legal teams. It needs to be, with the Napster win under its belt the record industry has just turned its attention to shutting down the Open-Napster servers based in the US.
But as the cliché goes, be careful what you wish for. Monday's ruling could effectively martyr Napster and the RIAA's hunt for Open-Napster servers will only speed up the process of driving P2P software products overseas. If that happens, Big Music's big win will be anything but.
"There's enough irate people out there I think I can get many to chip in $10 each," said Goyer. He may be right. 70% of Napster users said they would pay for the service if it was left as is. Problem is, even if Napster won its case, the eventual pay service would only carry the content from parent company Bertelsmann AG. Napster may survive as a new service, but it's the old service that people want and what the likes of the opportunistic Goyer are ready to mimic and provide.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in his article 'The RIAA's billion dollar' blunder', made this point:
As everyone who gives darn about music and technology knows, Napster offered the music industry a billion bucks over the next five years if they would, pretty please with sugar on top, not sue them out of existence. The music business, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) replied, "Hell no!"… What they don't get though, is that it's also the last, best deal, they're ever going to see.
He's right. Napster will soon no longer be the focal point of 64 million users who over the next few years will grow and scatter to dozens of smaller services.
If Napster is Pandora's box, it was the RIAA that flung open it's top by bringing about a lawsuit so visible and public it served as a free advertisement that enticed those 64 million people. Their most recent victories are actually going to make it worse for them.
When you think of Napster now, think of the Sorcerer's Apprentice piece from Disney's Fantasia. You know the scene where Mickey cast a spell magically enabling a broom to do all his chores so he could take a nap. He played around with something he had not totally figured out yet and before he realized it the broom was out of control. Remember what happened when he chopped the broom into 100 pieces in an effort to kill it?
Let's just say the music industry is staring at a pile of splinters on the floor and they are all starting to move.
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