November 9, 2000

Agreement Will Force Napster Users to Pay for Downloading Songs

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Napster’s free Internet music-sharing program will now require users to pay for downloading songs through a membership-based subscription system, thanks to Napster’s and BMG Music’s agreement last Tuesday. This came as a shock to many Cornell students accustomed to downloading music for free, despite recent efforts to monitor copyright infringement across the country.

“I can almost guarantee you that nobody will ever use Napster again once they start charging,” said Edward Hsu ’03, who uses Napster for at least one hour a day. “No one’s going to waste their time with Napster when there are other programs that people can use like Scour.”

By merging with BMG, a division of German media company Bertelsmann AG, Napster would avoid charges of copyright infringement and would be able to offer better quality downloads and improved instant messaging features.

Prof. James E. Shanahan, communications, said that Napster could be expected to progress into a business.

“Selling out is what they’re supposed to do,” he said. “They should be proud of themselves for inventing something that adds value to people’s musical experience. Why shouldn’t they have a payday too?”

However, A. Taneh Worjoloh ’04 said that Napster would betray its users if it were to charge members to browse through an exclusively BMG catalog.

“I think the whole point of Napster is that it’s free and that there is such a wide selection of music available,” Worjoloh said.

The partnership between Napster founder Shawn Fanning and Bertelsmann A.G. Chair Thomas Middlehoff may temporarily inhibit the growth of free music on the Internet and disappoint Napster’s 38 million users, but the deal may also set a precedent for how music will be bought, sold and distributed in the future, according to Steve L. Worona of Cornell Information Technologies.

The agreement between Napster and BMG will foster new approaches as to how artists will be paid for their intellectual property, he explained.

“Most observers don’t understand that the music industry’s current business model is not a good fit for the Internet era,” Worona said.

Earlier in September, Cornell received a request from lawyer Howard E. King, representing artist Dr. Dre and rock group Metallica, to restrict the access of Napster and other file-sharing programs on the University server.

Associate University Counsel Patricia A. McClary, who had informed King that Cornell would not ban access to Napster, agreed with Worona that there is no immediate need for a change in Cornell’s policies due to Napster’s partnership with BMG. However, students predict that Napster users will just switch to other file-sharing programs — Scour, Gnutella, CuteMX — to obtain their music.

“We will continue to follow the requirement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and continue to manage our networks to help all users get fair access to the available resources,” Worona said, confirming the contents of McClary’s written response to King.

The Napster-Bertelsmann alliance struck Worona as a reasonable plan, since it will allow BMG to drop its lawsuit against Napster providing that recording artists will be paid for making their music available to subscribers.

But unless the other four major record labels — Sony, Universal, Time Warner and EMI — make deals with Napster as well, Napster users will be limited to browse only through songs available from BMG.

“Until the other recording companies join [with Napster], the legal issues will [apply] as to all non-BMG music or recordings,” said Prof. Peter W. Martin, law.

The concept of free music is not new, Shanahan added. He himself had been using Napster recently to obtain various versions of Claire de Lune, Good-bye Pork Pie Hat and Lush Life.

“Trading networks, home taping and CD burning won’t end,” Shanahan said. “People will be able to find decentralized means of networking with each other to trade music. There won’t be enough record police in the world to track them all down.”

Archived article by Janet Liao