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Win or lose, Napster has changed Internet

graphic

In this story:

'Community' concept

Napster successors

'Peer-to-peer' computing


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A recent Web search turned up a page that offered surfers a chance to place their bets on Napster's future.

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Have you used Napster?

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  CASE FILE
graphic Copyright in the digital age

No real money goes on the table -- Internet gambling is another cloud on the digital horizon -- but those interested are invited to stake shares of their reputations by offering predictions about Napster's fate.

That fate is up in the air, as a case against the Internet upstart already has been filed in a United States circuit court.

But, win or lose, the company with the funny-sounding name has revolutionized the way music fans -- and the industry that caters to them -- do business.

'Community' concept

Napster was created by Shawn Fanning, a 19-year-old college dropout, and is based on a simple premise: to allow members of a "community" to share computer files on the Web. Napster's server accepts requests for certain files, searches listings of other community members who have them, and makes the connection between the requester and the source.

This is all pretty harmless -- so long as members are sharing software patches or printer drivers or grandma's recipe for rhubarb pie.

But what if they share music?

Since Napster went online in the summer of 1999, literally millions of MP3 files, representing all sorts of music -- Britney Spears, Wu Tang Clan, Faith Hill, Glenn Miller and more -- have flashed across the Web from user to user. With the Napster pipeline, users suddenly no longer needed the music industry's handlers, packagers and promoters.

When it discovered that pipeline earlier this year, the recording industry recoiled -- then reacted. Claiming they had to protect copyrights and musicians' livelihoods, industry giants BMG, Time Warner and Sony, along with middleweights like the heavy-metal band Metallica, took Napster to court, vowing to stop the traffic in purloined music.

Whether the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals decides to shut Napster down remains to be seen, but this much is clear: It has changed the music industry -- and possibly the entire Internet.

Napster successors

Napster is just the first of its kind, and the music industry knows it. In a recent interview, U2's The Edge offered a gloomy prediction:

"If they think Napster's bad, I can tell you there's a lot worse coming," said the guitarist, whose real name is Dave Evans. "...The software that is untraceable is just around the corner."

Napster is just the beginning, added Ben Berkowitz, who covers technology issues for the online magazine Inside.com.

"I know for a fact there are other systems in development that are being programmed right now and developed," he said. "... I think (that) even if Napster goes away, the idea of file sharing will be very, very hard to defeat."

The record industry has belatedly begun developing a file format that could be transferred like an MP3 file, but could not be copied and distributed to others. If it works, consumers would pay a nominal fee per track, or foot the cost of a subscription that would allow unlimited use of a library of music. A user would pay a bill for music, just as he or she pay charges for gas, water and electricity.

'Peer-to-peer' computing

But, say insiders, the "music bill" premise is a best-case scenario, dependent on the music industry's ability to get technologically up to speed. Napster, win or lose, has given cyberspace the first test "peer-to-peer" computing: Rather than many computer users contacting a few servers for data, Napster and its probable successors allow individuals to contact each other exchange data. There's no room or need for a middleman.

In the Internet's decentralized world, this could affect publishing, broadcasting, all forms of intellectual and creative pursuits.

The film industry, for example, already is worried about films lifted from DVDs traveling on high-speed data lines the same way popster Christina Aguilera's tracks fly through cyberspace today.

The genie, in other words, isn't in the bottle anymore.



RELATED STORIES:
Schools split on whether to block students' Napster access
October 1, 2000
Meet the Napster
October 2000
Appeals court to hear Napster case Monday
September 29, 2000
Rock band Offspring won't offer free album download
September 26, 2000
Some major universities reject ban on Napster
September 22, 2000
Digital music security initiative nearly ready
September 22, 2000
Music, book industries to lose billions
September 21, 2000
Barenaked Ladies battle Napster with 'Trojan' download

RELATED SITES:
Napster
Recording Industry Association of America

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