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Napster Primer

December 10, 2000


             Napster, a file-sharing program for music, is being sued by the RIAA for copyright infringement.  A court has already ruled that Napster is in violation of these laws and has ordered it to shut down its servers to prevent further copyright infringement, although this will barely hamper the efforts of the real pirates. The RIAA, the recording industry’s trade organization, is trying to capitalize on the Internet while trying to stop others from doing so as well. What the RIAA fails to realize is that the Internet is based on file-sharing, and that there are many better ways to pirate the songs it releases.  I believe the RIAA should find the real perpetrators of this crime and prosecute them. 


Recently a United States court stated that Napster, an online music- sharing program, should shutdown its servers, thus stopping its near 35 million users from trading music with each other.  Napster’s nemesis in this court case is the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), who believe the program Napster should be banned for copyright infringement. Although this appears to be a simple issue of copyright infringement, it isn’t. Many people have stakes in this issue, and all want their views heard and ruled upon. The purpose of this report is to analyze the lawsuit, the program’s merits and faults, and the RIAA’s complaints. This report will research the sides in this issue, examine their points of view, as well as explain why Napster should not be a priority concern of the RIAA.

Napster-The Person, The Program, and how they benefit the music industry

First, when explaining Napster it must be understood that it is more then just a program. At the Napster home page it states that Napster was the online pseudonym of Shawn Fanning, the programmer who wrote Napster the program. During his first year as a student at Northeastern University, Fanning, like most students, was trading MP3’s via the internet. At the time though, sharing files was hard and very unreliable so “ looking for a challenge beyond entry-level courses”, he decided to write an easy to use program himself.(Testimony of) The result was both extraordinary and revolutionary.

Like the programmer himself, Napster the program was innovative.  Napster himself wrote an article on the Napster website stating his program is much like the IRC (internet relay chat), where almost anything is traded online, yet unlike the IRC, it is not a difficult command-based program where things are hard to find (Testimony of). Napster,  a windows-like program with a GUI (Graphic user interface), with point and click actions make searching, downloading, or uploading very easy.  This probably explains Napster’s widespread use; it is an easy to use program that is specialized enough to only search for what people want. Secondly, Napster the program used a new way of logging people’s files and transferring them.  It uses a central server that logs all users’ shared song names (Horiuci, Vincent), and when searching for songs, one only searches the central server’s list. Napster the program didn’t change anything on the Internet. Before there was Napster there were many ways to download songs, for instance: FTP, IRC, and websites. After Napster there will be even more. If Napster is banned it will not stop the supposed copyright infringement, it will hardly even put a dent in it. The only thing Napster accomplished was to invent a new, innovative, easy to use program that anyone regardless of skill could enjoy.

Napster is not only a program, or a person, but it has become a huge community of people.  Napster is like a Utopia of the Internet where most people go to exchange ideas, tastes, and differences in music, while sharing it.  Personally, since using Napster, I have opened my own narrow mind regarding music and have started listening to many different types of music. Napster is actually helping the music industry. Many people I know, after using Napster, have went out and bought instruments, turntables, mixers, and other electronic music makers, as well as various genres of music albums.

RIAA-Background and it’s complaint against Napster

On the RIAA homepage, the RIAA characterize themselves as:

"...the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Our mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members' creative and financial vitality. Our members are the record companies that comprise the most vibrant national music industry in the world. RIAA® members create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States.”(Mission Statement)

The RIAA is the primary group responsible for most of the music we hear.   The hierarchical structure of the RIAA appears to be set up with it being the parent body of all the recording companies, almost a massive law office of sorts (Hilary B. Rosen), with the major record companies as its directing parties.  The artists, at the bottom, are sunk way down low like the peasants of medieval times. The RIAA decides who is going to make it in the “business” and hence they decide what it is that we can purchase. Understandably, the artists do need someone to fight for their cause, but the RIAA has become too powerful.

The RIAA “charges the file-sharing software maker (Napster) with contributory and vicarious copyright infringement”(Doug Reece) and claim that they are losing money due to Napster’s widespread use among college students.(Report of) These statistics, which were compiled by  the music stat compiler Soundscan, suggest that college students are purchasing less CD’s, but fails to cite Napster as the primary culprit behind these issues.

The RIAA is also worried about On-line piracy, and what they call CD-R Piracy. On-line piracy is something not even an organization as big as the RIAA can stop, it is a widespread problem in every media industry. So many people with different natures and skills are pirating everything online from retail music albums to Sony Playstation Games. CD-R Piracy is a huge problem. As CD burner technology gets better; the burners get faster, less complicated, and cheaper. Anyone with a computer can purchase a CD burner, and for less then one dollar per CD can start burning information of various sorts onto the recordable Discs (CD-R Piracy).  Both of these issues are rampant in society today, and both issues of piracy could be aided with the use of Napster.

Better Methods of Downloading MP3’s  

The RIAA needs to understand that there are limitations to Napster that make it a poor tool to use when pirating music. There are many ways to share music on the internet other then Napster. The internet was developed for file-sharing, and many ways of sharing have been developed.  One I have discovered is File Transfer Protocol, commonly referred to as FTP. FTP was developed in the early years of the internet by a “community of researchers centered around the ARPAnet”( Hedrick, Charles L.).  Unlike Napster, this protocol allows for full albums, including cover art, to be shared.  In my own experience, people who are familiar with the FTP protocol, and what it entails, perceive Napster as a archaic, slow, incomplete way of sharing files.  Why would someone choose to download a couple of songs off of their favorite artist’s album when they can download the entire album, complete with cover art?  With Napster, the songs you do end up downloading are of variable quality, and are usually cut off at the end. With FTP you can resume any file, and request from the server operator the quality you want. FTP is a protocol that was invented way before Napster the person was conceived; it remains the least time consuming, yet most complete way to pirate anything.   

Conclusion-the RIAA should pursue the Real Criminals 

For the RIAA to sue Napster is ludicrous. Napster’s only crime is being a popular and easy program that is built on the foundations of file-sharing.  The real criminals are: the people who are stealing the albums before their release, the people who convert the retail version into compressed MP3’s, plus the individuals who neglect every software disclaimer (Napster, INC. End User Software License Agreement) they read, and neglect to delete their files after 24 hours. The RIAA blames Napster for the theft of so many tunes but they neglect to blame the developers of the internet who originally envisioned file-sharing.

The RIAA is basically suing for their loss of profits yet their CEO Hilary Rosen states on their Homepage:

Despite the excitement felt by music lovers and record companies alike over the positive potential of the Internet, for the time-being, loyalty to the physical product remains as is evident by the midyear shipment numbers". (2000 Midyear Market Report on U.S. Recorded Music Shipments)

Ultimately this is an issue of money, and it appears the RIAA’s motive is to protect its own self-interests, which trickles down to being the artists. If the RIAA is looking for someone to blame it should be itself, for it is the organization that lacked the foresight and ability to capitalize on the internet.

 Works Cited

“2000 Midyear Market Report on U.S. Recorded Music Shipments”,  RIAA Homepage,

 RIAA, (November 20, 2000), <>

 “CD-R Piracy.”, RIAA Homepage, RIAA, (November 16, 2000)            <>

Fanning Shawn, “Napster, INC. End User Software License Agreement”,        

Napster Version 2B7, Napster, Software Program, 2000, (November 20, 2000),Windows 9x,


Hedrick, Charles L., “What is TCP/IP”, Introduction To Internet Protocols, Steven E.

            Newton, The University of New Jersey, (November 16, 2000)



“Hilary B. Rosen, President and CEO.”, RIAA Homepage, RIAA, (November 15, 2000),



Horiuci, Vincent, “Napster Whiz to Testify On Net’s Future.”, The Salt Lake Tribune

(November 13, 2000) <>


“Mission Statement.”, RIAA Homepage, RIAA, (November 12, 2000),



Reece, Doug, “RIAA Sues Napster.”, Homepage, (December 8, 1999),

            (November 19, 2000) <


“Report Of Michael Fine.”, RIAA Homepage, RIAA, (November 22, 2000),



“Testimony of Shawn Fanning.”,  Napster Homepage,   Napster

(November 12 2000)<>

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