Cybernaut 

The prodigal son returns

Remember Napster?

Maybe this brief timeline will refresh your memory:

Early 1999 – Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, aged 19 and 20, launch the Napster peer-to-peer file-sharing system, and it spreads from campus to campus like wildfire. Unlike other fledgling file sharing platforms, Napster was geared to share MP3 files, eliminating a lot of clutter and allowing students to focus on downloading as much music as their hard drives could hold.

December 7, 1999 – It didn’t take long for the recording industry to realize that they had a problem on their hands. The Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

April 13, 2000 – Risking criticism from their fans, Metallica brings its own suit against Napster and Yale, the University of Southern California, and Indiana University for copyright infringement. The universities did not comply with a request to block the use of Napster on campus.

Dr. Dre filed a similar suit two weeks later.

May 3 – Metallica produces a list of 335,000 Napster users they allege were swapping illegal copies of their music. They deliver the list to Naspter, which agrees to shut down the accounts of most of the users. Of course, there was nothing stopping those people from opening new accounts under different names, but the point was made.

May 5 – Judge Patel rules that Napster is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

July 26 – Patel grants the RIAA a preliminary injunction and orders Napster to shut down its file sharing service.

July 28 – The 9 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stays the injunction on the basis that the injunction was unusual, and Judge Patel may have overstepped her authority.

Oct. 2 – The appellate court hears oral arguments regarding the injunction.

Oct. 31 – Napster CEO Hank Barry and Shawn Fanning announce plans to turn Napster into a paid, subscription-based system that would guarantee royalties to record companies and artists. The plan is supported by BMG Music, which has the fourth largest catalogue in the world.

Feb. 12, 2001 – The appellate court upholds Judge Patel’s finding that Napster users were using the platform to illegally copy and distribute music. It then orders Napster to stop users from trading and distributing copyrighted material, but allows the site to continue to operate until the injunction can be rewritten.

Feb. 20 – Barry attempts to make the RIAA suit go away by offering a $1 billion settlement with the five major labels and independents in the suit. The offer is rejected.

Mar. 2 – Judge Patel issues another injunction, stating that the onus is on the record companies to identify exactly what songs are being stolen so the legitimate trade of open source songs could continue. A tall order seemingly, but the music industry complied in less than a week.

Mar. 5 – Napster begins to voluntarily block access to copyrighted songs, starting at first with the albums and songs on the Billboard charts. File swappers attempt to get around the blocks by using type-o’s, pig Latin, and other tricks. Orn in the S.A. by Ruce Pringstein anyone?

Mar. 27 – the RIAA files another brief claiming that Napster has not complied with the injunction.

Apr. 10 – Judge Patel calls Napster an out of control monster and recommends that it be shut down entirely for not complying with the junction.

By the end of May of 2001, traffic was down by more than 36 per cent, as users took their file trading tendencies elsewhere. Still, Napster had about 50 million users, swapping 1.6 billion files each month. At its peak in 2000, Napster had 60 million members.

The legal wrangling continued into the next year, and attempts to turn Napster into a pay service floundered as the company was unable to reach a deal to satisfy all the various music companies involved. On June 3, 2002, Napster filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

That should have been that for Napster, but the music industry can’t seem to leave the carcass alone.

On Feb. 25, it was announced that Napster will be resurrected under the wing of Roxio Inc., which manufactures CD-burning software. Talks have resumed with the five largest record labels in the music industry – Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, Bertelsmann AG (BMG), and EMI – and plans are in the works for a new kind of Napster where all the songs are high quality, and customers pay a fee for each song that’s downloaded.

The previous attempt to turn Napster into a pay service failed when the company ran out of money before a user pay system could be put into place.

The question remains: will it work? So far Pressplay and MusicNet, two commercial Web sites that are selling songs online, are foundering, while the free services that stepped up to replace Napster, such as KaZaA and LimeWire, are more popular then ever.

Unless the legal actions against the free file sharing companies are successful and produce the legal precedent that was lacking in the Napster case to discourage other file sharing services, the public will pick the free service over the pay service every time.

Or maybe Roxio and Napster know something we don’t.

Napster –  www.napster.com

Roxio –  www.roxio.com

KaZaA –  www.kazaa.com

LimeWire – www.LimeWire.com

RIAA – (The most hacked site on the Web) www.riaa.org

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