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The Internet has changed the way that many people go about their everyday lives. People are trading stocks, paying bills, checking weather reports, buying cars, and even lining up their Friday night dates via the Internet. It has certainly proved to be a convenient tool for many, but for some musicians it has created a void in their pocketbooks that may take some time to fill. Is the sharing of music files on the Internet our God given right, or is it a simple case of theft?
As the 1990’s gave us Seinfeld, Grunge Rock, The Clinton Administration and the Macarena, they also introduced many people around the world to the Internet. The Internet allows clusters of computer networks to be linked together worldwide giving people the ability share information virtually anywhere. Among that shared information includes music files known as MP-3’s. The MP-3 ( MPEG Audio Layer 3) can squeeze a music file to a fraction of its original CD file size with only a slight loss of quality.  These files can be sent as attachments to e-mails and played back by the recipient just as if they were listening to the original recording. This seemed like a great way of distributing music over the Internet until a 19-year-old college freshman named Shawn Fanning released a computer program he had just written. He called it "Napster" -- his own nickname (apparently Fanning had issues with shampoo, so his hair was kind of . . . well, you know).  This site allowed its users the ability to search for music and download it to their PC from any other user who happened to be logged on to that site. Imagine millions of files, readily available from your own home with the simple click of a mouse! You’ll never have to purchase another new CD again…or will you?
Musicians and record companies around the world became growingly concerned with the drastic decline of album sales. How could copyrighted music created by an artist be taken and distributed without the permission of its owner? Isn’t this stealing? One would surely think that a department store would press charges if an individual were caught shoplifting CD’s. A musician makes his/her livelihood from the sale of their music the same way a store makes money from merchandise sales.
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It wasn’t long before the dispute between the entertainment industry and Napster was presented to a Federal Court in order to decide whether or not the sharing of copyrighted music would continue. A decision was soon made. On July 27, 2000 a Federal Judge in San Francisco ruled in favor of the recording industry and ordered Napster to shut down. For in-depth detail of the courtroom proceedings visit: http://news.findlaw.com/legalnews/lit/napster/.
Although Napster was ordered to cease its existence, many other clones have evolved such as Gnutella, Bearshare and Kazaa to name a few. These sites will probably be short lived, but rest assured there will be dozens of others to follow.
The music entertainment industry leads the music piraters 1-0, but is this really fair? People have been copying music from cassette tapes, vinyl records and 8-tracks for years without any problems. The only difference is now you have a cyber world in which everything you do is examined by millions of other people. The online activities are easily monitored making it difficult to get away with anything.
We already know that the majority of musicians are against any type of illegal file sharing, but what about the rights of freedom loving individuals who like to” bang their heads” at no cost? Are they really criminals? Some research suggests that Internet song-swapping may not be so bad for the music industry after all. A recent study of more than 2,200 online music fans by Jupiter Communications suggests that users of Napster and other music-sharing programs are 45 percent more likely to increase their music purchasing than fans who aren’t trading digital bootlegs online.  After all, it is very time consuming to go through the process of searching and downloading music files from the web. You also have the time involved in converting the MP-3 files to WAV files combined with time needed to burn a CD. It really doesn't seem worth it, although it is nice to have the ability to preview a song before buying the entire CD. Music sharing sites like Napster give fans that ability.
Is there a solution to this dispute that can make both sides happy? Some MP-3 sites are charging a fee to their users for the use of its material. A percentage of that fee can then go back to the artists as a form of royalty for the music they have written and copyrighted. I believe that there will be a fee charged for all Internet activity performed by an individual. Programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop will only be accessible online to prevent illegal copying of software. You will pay for the use of these programs, the music that you download, the number of pictures that you e-mail, etc. just as you would pay for food in a cafeteria. It will all come to you as on monthly bill. That bill will probably include cable television costs, as I believe that we will watch TV via the Internet also.
It seems that with the power of the Internet comes a certain level of illegal activity. People are stealing software, credit card numbers and identities. Child pornography over the Internet continues to be an ongoing problem. Terrorists can trade information and plan attacks via the Internet. I believe that it is the sole responsibility of each individual user to make good ethical decisions when accessing the Internet. The power of online communication can be an awesome thing when used with a certain level of good moral judgment and respect.
Beekman, George. Computer Confluence – Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002
Chandross, Nancy. Costly to music industry. Internet Article. http://abcnews.go.com/sections/tech/DailyNews/napster000727.html
Fridman, Sherman. Music artists advertise for online rights. Internet Article http://www.infowar.com/class_1/00/class1_071300c_j.shtml
Page, Aaron. Napster No Longer. Newshour Extra. Internet Article http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/jan-june00/napster.html