In case you haven”t heard the most devastating news for music enthusiasts since the end of the vinyl era, Napster got the can this week. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the “company encourages and abets the wholesale infringement of copyrights.” Yeah they do, as much as I hate to admit it. I am one of many who live and die by the unparalleled ease and availability of the service.
That creates a sort of dilemma for me, and for everyone else too, I hope. Last year, when Napster was getting its start, I lived in the dorms. For all my bitching about dorm life, you”ve got to like the connection speeds. That being said, downloading from Napster was ridiculously easy. So along comes Napster, and my friend Brian tells me that I can get any song I want, completely and immediately, for free.
My first instinct was “hot dog!” But after very little thought on the issue, I realized that Napster was about as kosher as a cheeseburger with a side of lobster (that”s a little Jewish humor for y”all). I decided then to take a sort of moral stand against Napster. I refused to use it, and gave all my friends an angry tirade against it, and them, whenever the issue came up.
But little time passed until I caved. About a week after learning about Napster, I would secretly download songs and not tell anyone. I continued to hypocritically speak out against it. Slowly, my dirty music-sharing secrets were revealed, and since then I”ve been all about it.
When this legal battle came up, I was singing a very different song than that of a year ago. I believed that it was Metallica, their cronies, and the record industry who were being hypocritical.
What is an artist? A true artist? A true artist is someone who doesn”t care about making money. It is someone whose primary concern should be that their art is heard their message is heard by as many people as possible. That their music can reach more people as a result of Napster should be enough to pledge their support to the file-sharing software.
For the young, struggling artist, you should definitely want as many people to hear your music right off the bat. For the established musicians (Metallica and the like), you”ve got more money than you could possibly know what to do with. You”ve already benefited from a society that pays its artists inordinate amounts of money. Now you”re trying to hustle the system for some more. And if you ever run out of money, sell your souls to Microsoft and let them use Enter Sandman, or whatever, to sell Windows “03.
For you middle of the road, flash in the pan, one hit wonder bands, Napster must scare the shit out of you. Good. If you don”t have enough confidence in the rest of your album that kids are going to be satisfied enough by only downloading your bubble gum pop hit, then you don”t deserve to call yourself a musician.
The other side of this story is one of greed. There is a paradox in making one”s living as an artist, but that”s another issue. Our country is hell-bent on this capitalism thing, and that”s not going anywhere. That explains the ruling of the 9th District Court, and probably spells doom for Napster and its progeny in the long run, because from a legal standpoint, they”re in the wrong, or at least facilitating those who are in the wrong.
The other part of this that troubles me is that it seems that the record industry is unfairly picking on Napster. Why didn”t duel-deck cassette players get taken to court when they came out? I”ll tell you why. Because Sony made them, and they make records too. Why aren”t CD burners the real root of the problem at all to blame? Someone tonight suggested to me that they might as well go after the radio. You can tape off of it, after all. It”s primitive and ridiculous, but it”s possible, and would violate the same copyright infringements that the faithful users of Napster (including myself) have done and will do until next week, or whenever they take away our baby.
Music copyrighting has always been a very complex and challenging issue. But the verdict against Napster is hypocritical, shortsighted and hopefully not permanent.
As I write this column listening to burned music, let”s hope that Metallica and other artists remember why they got into music in the first place, when they couldn”t get 20 people to show up at the club they were playing in. Let”s hope they remember that and appreciate that Napster plays a huge part in the realization of the idealistic notion of art for art”s sake.
David Horn”s column runs every other Friday. Give him feedback at www.michigandaily.com/forum or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.