Bizarro World – With Professor Russell Roberts.
The article for this week’s reading is entitled “Napsternomics: What’s the
Roberts fired up the engine on his 1972 VW Microbus by giving us a definition of Napster, the software program where without much effort one would download virtually any song onto their computer and move it to an MP3 player or burn it to a CD. He tells us that the critics of Napster argue that this method of obtaining music was essentially theft. Roberts points out that if Napster was legal and widespread, sales of recorded music would essentially go to zero, destroying the incentive to be a musician. The critics thought that Napster would mean the end of the professional music community.
In his article, Roberts disagrees with the critics of Napster. He does accept the view that Napster was a form of theft, and theft would have been good for the music industry in the long run. To quote Roberts,
“…the decision to shut down Napster via the courts may ultimately harm music lovers, even those like myself who never used Napster. In other words, I will argue that allowing the theft of music via Napster could have actually increased revenue for the music industry benefiting music lovers and the creators of music.”
Roberts’ article was written in June of 2002, so it’s possible to see if Robert’s prediction came true. Roberts states:
” If Napster had been allowed to flourish, it's possible that new technologies would have been created to allow music producers to charge for their work at the same time that listeners would have benefited from the access opportunities provided by Napster.”
I’m going to argue that the file sharing technology that Napster popularized never actually went away. While Napster itself lasted only from June 1999 to July 2001 as a free file sharing service, other peer to peer file sharing software programs such as Kazaa, and bittorrent, stepped in to fill the ‘Napster niche”. Kazaa and FastTrack, (another file sharing software program) were created by Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis, and Priit Kasesalu. It was introduced by their Dutch company Consumer Empowerment in March 2001. The shutdown of Napster allowed Kazaa to rapidly facilitate the free sharing and copying of music in a peer to peer environment. In my opinion Kazaa was just Napster by another name that actually allowed you to download more music faster. (I’m leaving aside the costs of Kazaa, such as increased introduction of malware, viruses and other malicious code. If you want to research that tradeoff, jump on wikipedia and bring some caffeine and Kleenex.
BitTorrent is another of a long line of file sharing software programs that were able to quickly and easily take Napster’s place. According to Wikipedia: (I know not the most reliable source…) “The first client, known as BitTorrent, was created by Bram Cohen, in October 2002. A BitTorrent client is a computer program that manages downloads and uploads using the BitTorrent protocol.”
Ok, let’s go back to Roberts’ contention that, “If Napster had been allowed to flourish, it's possible that new technologies would have been created to allow music producers to charge for their work at the same time that listeners would have benefited from the access opportunities provided by Napster” Napster was allowed to flourish! Just not under the name Napster. In Roberts’ article he likens Napster style peer to peer file sharing to people in
Roberts feels that shutting down Napster would have been the equivalent of
Arrrgh… this post is too long.
Two more points, the music industry was already licensing music for downloads before Napster was shut down, its market was already responding to the theft! It was already providing consumers with what they wanted! Enter iTunes: iTunes is a proprietary digital media player application, used for playing and organizing digital music and video files. The program is also an interface to manage the contents on Apple's popular iPod digital media players as well as the iPhone. Additionally, iTunes can connect to the iTunes Store via the Internet to purchase and download music, music videos, television shows, applications, iPod games, audiobooks, podcasts, feature length films and movie rentals (not available in all countries), and ringtones (available only in the USA). It is also used to download applications for the iPhone and iPod touch running iPhone OS 2.0 or later.
iTunes was introduced by Apple Inc. on
Ok my final two points:
- In Professor Roberts’ Bizarro World, Napster was shut down, effectively barring the theft of music. In his ideal world, if Napster had been allowed to stick around the “theft of music via Napster could have actually increased revenue for the music industry benefiting music lovers and the creators of music.”
- In the real world, while Napster was shut down, “Napster” wasn’t. There never was a real concerted effort to end file sharing, Napster replacements were active before the actual Napster was shut down, and the amount of freely downloaded music has actually risen from year to year. In this real world, the theft of music hasn’t increased revenue for the music industry. (In 1999 the major labels sold about 13 billion dollars worth of music, in 1998 only 9 billion.) Whether music lovers and the creators of music have benefited is an open question.
Please listen to a recent On the Media with Brooke Gladstone, from Oct 23, for a bird’s eye view of the Napster vs. Record Label incident.