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Students: Swapping not dead yet

Feb. 13, 2001

Despite court threat, copycat sites may

likely keep trade alive


Staff writer

Like many college students, Todd Allen, a Memphis junior, fits the likely profile of a Napster user: he loves music and has a computer.

But with the federal appeals court ruling Monday threatening to shut down the music-swapping service, citing 'vicarious copyright infringement,' Allen and other music fans may have to turn elsewhere to satisfy their cravings.

Last fall, in an attempt to save the company from litigation, Napster made a 'strategic alliance' with music giant Bertelsmann AG that would potentially change the free online music-swapping service into a paying one.

However, in a 58-page opinion, a three-judge panel told a lower court district judge to rewrite her injunction to focus more on the copyrighted material and order Napster to prevent its users from gaining access to content on its search index.

Napster officials said such a ruling could force them to shut down.

In a press conference Monday, the company vowed they would 'pursue every avenue in the courts and the Congress to keep Napster operating.'

Napster can operate until the U.S. District judge retools her injunction. Napster can now ask for the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court to hear arguments on the injunction or it can appeal directly to hear the case, according to the court.

Allen said that he thinks the penalty is too excessive and that there is still room for compromise.

'I think shutting down the site completely is too harsh,' he said. 'If they were to charge a small fee it would be better.'

Adam Bravo, a Katy senior, also said he would be willing to pay a small membership fee per month if that would satisfy the music companies.

'Napster is great because you get the songs you want,' he said. 'I would rather download the songs I like, with a small monthly fee, than buy a whole CD that doesn't have all the songs I want.'

Allen, who has over 2,000 songs downloaded, said he turned to the Napster service because it made sense with trying to balance a craving for music and a limited budget.

'I copy music all the time -- it is so much cheaper to buy blank CDs than buy recorded ones,' he said. 'It is a real temptation knowing that anything musically you want is literally at your fingertips.'

It is not surprising to see that Napster is more popular among teen-agers and college students -- the original concept was created by a 19-year-old college dropout.

In 1999, Shawn Fanning developed an MP3 server that allowed fellow friends and other music fans to swap songs for free by trading MP3 files, which is a compression format that turns music on compact discs into small computer files.

Clint Butler, a San Antonio senior, said he hasn't bought another compact disc since he has been downloading music on the Internet.

'There is just no reason to buy a whole CD when you can get it for free,' he said. 'I have a CD burner and a computer and that is all you need.'

Butler said he is not worried if the Napster site shuts down because the concept of trading music via a computer has already been exposed and will probably be replicated.

Other services such as Song Spy, Imesh, and Scour Exchange all contain music that can be downloaded for free.

'The idea is already out there and if Napster was to shut down, there are so many other options out there available,' Butler said.

Tommy Roberson, network security adviser, said he agrees with the court's decision, stating that just because this is digital technology on a computer, national copyright laws still apply.

'Using a computer does not exempt you from existing copyright law,' Roberson said. 'If I was to buy a movie and decide to make a 100 copies for my friends for free just because I was a nice guy, it would still be illegal.'

Roberson said although he understands Napster's appeal with the younger and more thrifty generation, it is ultimately the fledgling young artists that lose the necessary money to offset the expensive costs of producing an album.

'Making a good CD requires a lot of money,' he said. 'Though independent artists may want the exposure, Napster doesn't give them a choice to recoup the $15,000 cost for making a record.'

Roberson said although he doubts the Napster case will stop other services from pirating copyrighted music, it may slow it down.

'I don't think the music trading will stop, but it will make it harder for other companies to make money off other people's intellectual property,' he said.