July 28, 2000

For Many Online Music Fans, Court Ruling Is Call to Arms



Music on the Net

Napster Seeks Stay of Order
(July 28, 2000)

Judge Bars Napster
(July 27, 2000)

Information Industries Changing
(July 27, 2000)

Judge Asked for Major Ruling
(July 25, 2000)

Napster Press Conference

Ban Napster?

It was around 8 p.m. on Wednesday when Joe Frost heard that a federal judge had issued an order that effectively shut down Napster. By 11 p.m., he had linked his computer to one of several underground networks that allow users to do the same thing as the popular Internet music-swapping service does, only without providing a central target.

Like many of Napster's millions of users, Mr. Frost, a 23-year-old systems administrator in San Francisco, did not see the court's ruling as a victory for copyright law or a defeat for a particular company. He saw it as a call to arms. "I wanted to get more involved in keeping free music distribution alive," Mr. Frost said.

The decision by Chief Judge Marilyn Patel of the United States District Court in San Francisco to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Napster from offering access to songs whose copyrights are owned by the major record labels is being viewed as a serious blow to those who had hoped to build a business around the trading of copyrighted music over the Internet.

But the cultural phenomenon of widespread copying of music shows no signs of abating, as Internet users swarmed to other services that are not designed to make money.

And since many of the alternatives are decentralized and noncommercial, they are likely to be much harder for the recording industry to attack.

Napster, a San Mateo, Calif., company that hopes to profit through advertising, sponsored promotions and sales of CD's and other music-related items, asked the court yesterday for an emergency stay of the injunction. [Page C2.]

But no matter the case's ultimate outcome, Hugh Trout, 15, of Washington, who has copied hundreds of songs using Napster over the last year, said he was spending yesterday learning how to use Gnutella, a free program that connects people who want to trade music files by linking hundreds of thousands of individual computers together, rather than operating with a single central Web site like Napster.

"It looks just as good as Napster," said Mr. Trout, who downloaded the program before the main Gnutella Web site was overloaded late yesterday afternoon, leaving visitors with the message that its servers had to be taken offline temporarily "due to the unprecedented traffic volume following the Napster decision."

Downloads of Freenet, a program that allows users to share video and text files as well as music, had quadrupled from a daily average of about 1,000 by noon yesterday, said Tim Perdue, the administrator of source, the site that posts it.

Like Gnutella, Freenet uses a model that has come to be known as "peer to peer" computing, allowing users to download free software once and directly gain access to files on each others' computers, unlike Napster which requires users to log onto its servers each time they want to trade music. Both are being developed under the so-called open-source model, in which programmers around the world donate their services and software code free.

Ian Clarke, Freenet's primary creator, said the Napster injunction could have no impact on him or his program. "I've got no direct control over how people use it," Mr. Clarke said yesterday from London. "If someone put a gun to my head and said, 'Shut this down,' I would be unable to do so."

Gene Kan, one of the chief developers of Gnutella, said: "Gnutella's not a company. It's a movement."

Still, the reason the commercial Napster has been so much more popular than services like Freenet is because it was much easier for average computer users to navigate.

"One of the most important parts of the judge's comments yesterday is the message it sends to the venture capitalist and business community about commercializing these services," said Hilary Rosen, chief counsel for the Recording Industry Association of America. The trade group, which represents the record labels suing Napster, contends that the service contributes to piracy by making it easy to download protected music free. "It's when they get commercial to a large degree that they get more user-friendly."

A cultural phenomenon shows no signs of abating.

Users and developers say the surge in interest yesterday in such programs, despite their lack of easy use, underscores the degree to which people around the world resist the idea that intellectual property, like a digital music file, should be valued in the same way as physical property, like a compact disc.

"A lot of people just want free music," Mr. Clarke said, "But there is a philosophy that justifies that kind of instinct. Copyright is predicated on assumption that information is property. I would contest that assumption."

The Napster users were saying last rites in the service's chat rooms yesterday while downloading as many songs as they could before midnight tonight, when the court order is due to start. They evinced a range of philosophies regarding copyright.

"I've got 2600 files!!! Download them while you can," urged one user in Napster's alternative music forum.

Mike Longenecker, 33, a medical sonographer in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., said he only used Napster to find songs he could not get in a record store. To that end, he went to his computer yesterday morning and started typing in his favorite artists to look for rare remixes that might no longer be available to him after the service was shut down. One he said he was pleased to find: a medley including AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long."

"It's not something you can buy around here," Mr. Longenecker said.

Matt Roth, 27, of Washington, took a less delicate approach.

"Instead of searching by song title, I'm looking for bands," he said. "The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones. Then I choose a bunch of them to download. With a cable modem, it's taking me about three minutes per song."

But if the record industry hopes that shutting down Napster will result in more CD sales, Sam Chodur, 14, of Lake Hauto, Pa., said they could not count on any from him, at least not right away.

He is supporting one of several groups calling for a boycott on buying CD's.

Mr. Chodur and several friends are setting up a server on the OpenNap network, another chain of computers that connects would-be music-traders.

"I chose to do this because I thought it was unfair what they did to Napster," wrote Mr. Chodur, who will be in the ninth grade this fall. "It lets me sample the songs from a CD and I get to see if I want to buy the CD or not. I don't find it to be any damaging to any musicians. I actually think it is helping them."

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