Showbiz reacts to Napster ruling

Chuck D, Metallica, Jack Valenti, Michael Robertson and others on the future of digital music.

By Salon Technology Staff
July 28, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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As Napster fought an injunction that would shut down the MP3 file-swapping service Friday night, the stunned players on both sides of the issue sharpened their spins. Napster filed Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for an emergency stay. The injunction granted Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel requires the service to prevent its 20 million users from trading any songs copyrighted by the 18 record labels suing the digital music start-up for copyright infringement. Here's what musicians, attorneys and industry executives had to say about the ruling, and the future of Napster and online file sharing.

Ian Clarke, founder of Freenet, a decentralized file-swapping system

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I think it is sad that issues of free speech are being ignored in this case; to me it is a free speech issue. All Napster is doing is telling people where they can download MP3s; they are not actually helping in the information transfer itself.

Still, this does demonstrate why it is important for information sharing systems to be decentralized like Freenet to prevent this kind of attack.

Howard A. King, attorney for Metallica, which successfully sued Napster, thereby forcing Napster to block from its service anyone swapping the band's heavy metal tunes

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What this does is clarify what we always thought the law was, so any investment banker or other financial type is not going to invest in a site or technology that does something similar to Napster. I realize that doesn't encompass what Gnutella is doing, but it certainly gives owners of copyright the ability to bring actions for damages against users and developers -- actions that will stop them in their tracks.

But really, I tried using Gnutella and I couldn't make it work, so I'm not as worried about it as I was about Napster. I spoke to about 20 people who agreed. Of course, anybody who wants to steal music will do it; the diligent pirate will always succeed, but that doesn't mean we should allow it to become mainstream.

Ultimately, I think people will do what's right. It's hard in the face of free brownies to do the right thing, but if you have to find the recipe and cook them, you might just do what's right, which is pay for them.

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For now though, at least we've locked a ruling in place. I'm hoping this really does encourage record companies [and] technologists -- or 19-year-old geniuses -- to develop technologies that will allow the digital distribution of music in a way that compensates the owners. That's the real goal.

Chuck D, founder of Rapstation.com and frontman for legendary rap group Public Enemy (from the Rapstation site)

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"If Patel was the key judge at the last turn of the century, we'd still be relying on horses and buggies and trains to get around. Stopping the process of file sharing is like trying to control the rain."

Erwin Drake, former president of the Songwriters Guild of America

I am a career songwriter since 1942. The songs that I have either created alone or in collaboration with others are: "It Was a Very Good Year," "I Believe (For Every Drop Of Rain That Falls)," "Good Morning Heartache," "Perdido," "Tico Tico," "Al Di La," "A Room Without Windows," and others. The fact that these songs still survive is my only provider of income. I was president of the Songwriters Guild of America in 1976 when we won a new copyright law in Washington that extended the term of copyright protection and raised the royalty rates on recordings of our songs.

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What Napster is doing is in defiance of that law which carries a fine and, in some cases, a jail sentence. Napster is supplying burglar tools to a public that is not aware of the circumstances. That same public, if it can not afford a car or a home, knows it can not have them. They can not download that car or home. That would be theft if it were technically feasible. Intellectual property is entitled by law to the same measure of protection.

Glenn Reynolds, lead singer of techno band Mobius Dick and a law professor at the University of Tennessee:

Historically there's nothing new about this. When printing first appeared on the scene, there were a lot of efforts to control it, and, in fact, our current system of intellectual property law is built on a reaction to the abuses that went on in the British printing industry. When the British kings licensed printers in the early 17th century, they granted a monopoly. Unlicensed printers were prosecuted in the Star Chamber, a special court with extraordinary powers, and without the protection of trial by jury. This was a way for the crown to protect itself from people publishing things they didn't like, but also a way to extort political graft, which is a phenomenon you see today with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Congress.

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But one of the big results of prosecuting printers in Britain was that a lot of them moved to the Netherlands. They decamped in large numbers and their descendants are still there. There are huge publishers still there directly because of the British licensing of printers.

So basically they built themselves a competitor. And now, there's a risk that this could happen again. The record industry is so hot to shut down Napster and the MPAA is so hot to shut down new technologies, but they're just going to create a bigger problem. These technologies are going to be replaced by new technologies that are much more difficult to draw revenue from. What you're going to find is new technologies designed explicitly to transfer files without paying anybody.

Intellectual property was not a given right. It's not in the Constitution. It's just a tool of social policy -- not to make people rich, but rather to promote innovation in the science and the arts. When the system is designed not to further this purpose -- just to keep people rich -- it will lose legitimacy. If copyright law itself comes to be seen as a tool for fat cats to oppress the masses (and you'd be surprised at the kinds of people I hear saying exactly that these days) then there may be a backlash that will harm the record companies even if they somehow manage to deal with the Napster phenomenon. And, frankly, that's fine with me.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America

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I think it's a great triumph for copyright. The judge in clear and unambiguous language made it very clear that Napster wantonly violated copyright law. I don't think this is the end but it sends a message that copyright will not be ignored. It shows that the basic principle of copyright protection -- as made clear in the Constitution -- is very important.

Does it mean everyone lights a bonfire and goes home? Well, for our industry, we still have a window of time before piracy becomes rampant. Now, our companies are preparing business models to go online with movies to make them available at a fair and reasonable price.

We think the technological advancement that's going on is fantastic. It opens up a whole new global marketplace, but you cannot operate in an atmosphere where everything is free. If that happens, why would anyone bother to create? You just can't sit inert and let everyone take for free.

Of course, technology is going to go forward whether Napster exists or not. No law case is going to stymie technology, but we want to use that technology. That's why we're working with some of the smartest people in the technology world. There are a lot of people out there who are ready to help, willing to help legitimate technology defeat illegitimate. In the end, technology will defeat technology. There will be technology that can interrupt how things should be, but there will also be people on our side who will create technology that will baffle that illegitimate kind of innovation.

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Dan Rodrigues, president of Scour, a Napster-like multimedia search engine that was sued last week by both the music and film industries

I'm disappointed. Although it's still a little unclear to us how that affects Scour or if it does, [Judge Patel's ruling] is a loss for music fans -- on the conceptual level, and even more broadly than just in terms of music; file-sharing and user-to-user exchanges should not be deemed illegal. And ultimately they won't be seen as that. I'm disappointed for consumers, but I think this is just a short-term setback. This is all par for the course. In the name of technological progress, there will always obviously be challenges along the way. But consumers have shown that there's a massive demand for this kind of activity. I don't think it's going away. Eventually, the music industry will catch on. The proposition of having a massive number of users connected in one big community provides a pretty compelling platform for their product. They will embrace it because it works for consumers.

Shawn C. Reimerdes, a former defendant in the DeCSS case, and lead developer of Yo!NK, a distributed file sharing application that borrows from both Napster and Gnutella technology

This is a total surprise. I was just on IRC when the announcement was made. Everybody is asking "What can I use to replace Napster on Friday?"

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This changes a lot of things now. I assume the RIAA will not sue the second-generation file share apps for the moment, [and] Napster will be a nice buffer.

I think there will be a backlash as we see Napster develop into a real company, they want to be a puppet to the RIAA and this will hurt their image. People will turn to other services and technologies to get what they need. Who needs the politics? I just want to access some information. The Gnutella-style systems are the only way to avoid censorship in the end, and they will evolve with encryption and FreeNet-style file storing. The file sharing systems will grow openly with no control. Napster's architecture is very rudimentary but has opened a lot of people's minds about copyright and intellectual property. People want music for free and they will always be able to just download it. This weekend, millions of people will be downloading new file sharing tools; I wonder where they end up.

Paul Richards, guitarist with the California Guitar Trio

It is obviously very unpopular to be against Napster ... As a full time musician with the California Guitar Trio, which is currently at the point where we about break even financially, I can understand the idea that Napster could help unknown musicians become known. But it is obvious that the public majority misunderstands what it is like to be a musician who has worked very hard at making their recordings something of value and then have Napster provide a way for people to access it for free without the artist's permission.

Many of the arguments on an AOL "post your thoughts" page on Wednesday suggested that Metallica already has enough money, and asked why are they being so greedy and wanting to stop Napster. I would suggest that this is not necessarily an issue of money, but one of principle. The principle that it is not right for someone to give away something that is not theirs to give. The members of Metallica may or may not be financially wealthy individuals, but they represent only a handful of musicians that have a high level of continued financial success, while many of the rest of us scrape for every penny. If the California Guitar Trio's main aim was one of making lots of money, we would have chosen a different line of work a long time ago.

I was recently e-mailed by a friend who said that there is a fair amount of California Guitar Trio stuff available via Napster. I can see how this might help people become familiar with our music that had previously been unaware of us, but the problem is that it is all done without our permission. Limp Bizkit is currently doing a free Napster tour and has openly embraced the Napster music trading, so this is fine for them. They have openly given their consent and agree to have their music freely traded, so their position is clear. But what about all the artists who haven't given their consent? If Napster is supposed to be about giving unknown artists a helping hand, then why is 85 percent of the stuff available on Napster copyrighted material traded without the consent of the artist?

Michael Robertson, CEO of digital music warehouse MP3.com

I think it buys a small reprieve for the record labels. I say that because Napster was created because there was a void of digital music on the Net. Now that they've shut down Napster, consumers are going to have to look elsewhere. They're either going to look to commercially responsible alternatives, or the Net in all its collective wisdom and inevitable evolution will create litigation-proof Napsters.

You haven't seen a groundswell of movement toward Gnutella and all the other alternatives because they're impossible to use, they're not well supported. But with Napster shut down, all those engineers with time on their hands are going to start building litigation-proof versions of Napster that are easy to use. Before that happens, the industry has a window of opportunity, a chance to get behind some new solution that protects their copyrights.

Metallica (from a written statement)

We are delighted that the court has upheld the rights of all artists to protect and control their creative efforts. In what we feel is a heroic and historic decision, Judge Patel confirmed that musicians, songwriters, filmmakers, authors, visual artists and other members of the creative community are entitled to the same copyright protections online that they have traditionally been afforded offline.

Hank Barry, David Boies and the rest of Napster's legal team left no stone unturned in this battle, and we respect that. However, a society that does not value intellectual property is a poorer society, both economically and esthetically. In her decision, Judge Patel uncompromisingly endorsed this country's long tradition of encouragement of works of the mind. We thank and applaud her for that.

We also want to thank our fans for standing behind us in this fight. We believe that they and in fact most people in this country are as uncomfortable as we are with the idea that stealing, by whatever means, is OK. The court's decision is a welcome affirmation of that belief system.

Entertainment and copyright attorney Neil Rossini, of the New York firm Franklin Weinrib Rudell & Vassal

I don't see how any judge can look at Napster's traffic of millions of copyrighted works being exchanged and say it's legal. It really sends a message that businesses cannot be built on the wholesale taking of copyrighted works.

I think of MP3.com and Napster as two of the "Three Little Pigs," with Diamond Rio being the third. Its case was built of stone and law. MP3.com and Napster built theirs from straw and technicalities.

I heard [attorney for Napster David] Boies talking on the radio this morning and he said Napster couldn't separate authorized works from unauthorized works. That's like saying I'm going to build my house on your land because I can't tell where my little piece ends and yours begins. Well, you're just going to have to try a little harder.

Rob Reid, CEO of Listen.com, an online music directory

Act II of this needs to be the labels, the artists and the online music communities working together to give consumers what they've made it clear they need: broad access to online entertainment. We're really looking to push to get a legal and legitimate solution out. Napster pointed to downloadable music being important to the mass market; it is really, really part of the mainstream and that's something that no one had certitude about until now. I think a subscription model is what makes sense; and maybe a streamed model makes more sense right now, as downloads are still fraught with security issues and the [Secure Digital Music Initiative] process is not moving ahead as fast as anybody had hoped.


Salon Technology Staff

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