What's the story with Napster?

A viewer asked this question on 7/9/2000:

I am writing an argumentative paper for school debating both sides of the Metallica and Napster law suit. I was wondering if anyone knows any facts surrounding this.

stevehaddock gave this response on 7/9/2000:

It is a pretty simple lawsuit, but the ramifications for intellectual property and internet use are pretty wide ranging.

While Metallica is the Plaintiff in this case, this is really a "test case" for all artists who record music. Metallica is the "representative plaintiff", or one of the bands whose music is being traded on Napster.

As I understand it, Napster is simply a site where people can upload and download MP3 music files (for those of you who don't know, an MP3 is a music format which is compressed so that a song takes up about 1/3 of what it will on a CD, but very little if any quality is lost).

Metallica is alleging that by being the conduit for trading of MP3 files, Napster is infringing on Metallica's copyright in the music. Metallica wants an injunction to prevent Napster from having its files on its server. If they succeed, other artists will follow suit.

On the face of it, Metallica seems right. However, Napster points out it isn't making the copies, just making them easier to find. If Metallica wants to go after anyone, Napster feels they should go after the individuals who copy files into MP3 format and those that download them.

However, this may be a losing battle for artists. Anyone who hangs out on Usenet or IRC knows that trading of MP3 files goes on all the time. Moreover, it is clear that ISPs and servers that support IRC and are immune from attack on copyright grounds (just as an ISP wouldn't be guilty of sedition if someone posted to a newsgroup advocating the overthrow of the government). Napster closes and everyone switches to trading files over Usenet. Less convenient maybe, but the same effect.

Moreover, the future of music distribution may be over the net. Just like we no longer go to the local opera house when we're in the mood for a tune, in the future we may not bother going to the record store to purchase a CD. Instead, we download music files and pay on the go. Artists and companies that ignore this distribution channel may find themselves in the same boat as classic record stores - no-one wants vinyl or has the equipment to play it.

In fact, back in the 1930's, ASCAP, the artists' organization that collects royalties (and at that time generally represented Broadway songwriters) , tried to do in broadcast radio for many of the same reasons. One day, they decided that they would no longer allow their music to be played on the radio, which effectively made it illegal. The very same day BMI was formed, generally by artists who played country and western music. Instead of doing in radio, country and western replaced Broadway as the popular music of the United States.

JesseGordon responded:

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