The internet has been a Godsend for unsigned and independent bands. No longer do they have to rely entirely on live performances and the time consuming an costly process of handing out tapes or cd's. Now they can reach an audience of millions of potential fans instantly. In the time that it takes to download an MP3, they can share their music with people who might otherwise have never had the opportunity to hear them.
Speaking from personal experience, I discovered some of my current favorite bands online.
On the other side of that coin unfortunately is the established artist. While their music is readily available at record stores and on the radio, the attraction of digital music is very small because of the issue of piracy.
The recording industry has spent the past couple years trying in vain to stop illegal distribution of music by established bands. The RIAA an organization set up to hand out gold, platinum, and diamond record awards for album sales has been at the forefront of this battle, suing web site operators, sending out threatening legal letters and other tactics designed to curb the tide of illegal redistribution of copyrighted music via the popular compression format known as MP3.
Last week heavy metal veterans Metallica entered this battle by filing a lawsuit against three Universities and the web site Napster.com.
At the heart of the Metallica case is the fact that these Universities are allowing their students to use the schools networks to illegally distribute pirated digital copies of their music. They contend that because these Universities do not have controls in place to block the use of Napster's software, they are encouraging students to break the law and steal their music.
Napster has quickly become on the webs premier mp3 sites. With their software a web surfer can search for music present on other web surfers computers and if that user is online, they can download it to their own machine.
Metallica's Lars Ulrich had this to say in a statement Posted to Elektra Records web site concerning the reason the band filed the lawsuit, "We take our craft - whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork very seriously, as do most artists, It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."
Translated this may very well mean, that people are hearing his music and are not paying for it. Besides Napster Inc., the lawsuit also names three Universities as defendants in the lawsuit, University of Southern California, Yale University and Indiana University. What sets this case apart from other such cases is that the suit is being brought against the defendants using the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, more commonly known as RICO. Rico has been successfully used against the leaders of mafia families in the past. but why does Metallica think it applies here? At the heart of the Metallica claims is that these universities allow their students to exersize in the free trade of copyrighted songs because they have failed to put in blocking software that disables the use of Napster on their networks.
A number of Universities have implemented Napster blocking software. But many believe the reasoning behind this had less to do with copyright concerns than the fact that the heavy trading of mp3's slowed their systems down significantly.
Napster in their defense says that the press release and the lawsuit was the first time they heard that Metallica had a problem with their product and they intend follow Metallica's example and turn the case over to their lawyers to defend against the suit.
Was Metallica right in going after the universities in this case? Their claims are pretty flimsy. Since the internet is in itself an open network it is not reasonable to expect those who offer access to the internet to also act as police officers. Yes, the songs in question is their work and they should be compensated for it. But do we now start going after the manufactures of writable cd rom drives because their product fails to block people from making illegal copies of CD's or from turing mp3 files into audio cd's? This lawsuit is misdirected you don't shoot the messenger. If Metallica succeeds it will only hamper universities willingness to give students internet access and open up internet service providers to similar lawsuits if they fail to block against software programs like Napster.
There will always be music piracy because fans like sharing the music they love with others. In many cases an exchanged mp3 file may compel the recipient to purchase a cd they would have not thought of buying before. The trading of MP3's really took off in 1999, ironically this was the same year that record companies reported record sales. So are they really losing a lot of money here?
We reported last week many of the major record labels have plans to start offering digital music files online. Hopefully, that will help calm the tides a bit on this stormy issue. On the other hand Pandora's box is now open and there is really no way to stop fans from sharing the music they love with other fans, unless the bands want to start suing their fans.
That's my opinon on this matter, please hare your thought below.