From: The LRG Re: Napster

I thought the legal benefits of Napster were obvious, but I guess they were not.

I used to work in show business: "the business." In fact, I grew up in a trunk and pursued and knew no other business until my mid-twenties. I know more than I want about the misery, sorrows, and disappointments of pursuing a career in the arts. I also know that for these folks they have no choice and they love it. They didn’t choose the career–the career chose them. For the people involved, any public recognition validates a life of practice, training, and sacrifice.

The greatest difficulty for the performance artist (actors, musicians, singers), is to find an audience for their work. The same as new writers’ attempts to find publishers to reach readers. While it is possible for a musician to sit and play the piano in their home, every now and again their work requires an audience, and even more sporadically, it requires praise and recognition.

The video camera and cheap computer editing equipment has made it possible for actors and aspiring directors to produce their own works, with their own limited funds. Few of these will ever see the inside of a commercial cinema, but that isn’t the point. For 99% of the people involved, this isn’t the objective. Unpublished novelists are now giving away their books through the Internet or electronic self-publishing. They don’t care if they make any money at it—they just want their books read. The same is true for musicians. The technologies have become affordable for garage bands, soloists, and the Saturday night blues bands to produce a recording of reasonable quality and their goal is to get their music heard.

I’m sure all of us have been in a small café or a mall and listened casually to the musician playing their guitar. We see small chamber orchestras performing on the streets and subways of our major cities. Most of these musicians make their daily bread in traditional jobs, just like you and me. Some also make extra cash with the coins collected in the open guitar case, or the self-made CDs and cassettes they sell at these performances. They make photocopies of their performance dates and hand them out in hopes of acquiring a following, a continued audience. For 99% of these people, fortune is not their goal—they want recognition and the fame in having their work known.

These performers are no less great, no less remarkable, and no less important than their record company-backed, wealthy, packaged, "famous" peers. It is for these folks that Napster was invented and it is for these people that Napster should be protected. Places like Napster have made it possible for the little guy to freely distribute their works–to carve out their 15 minutes of fame.

The people who benefit most through Napster-like technologies are the equivalent of small businesses competing with the mega-giant corporations. While neither has any more or less rights than the other, we recognize the importance of small business to an ever-growing and vital economy—and we cut them a little more slack.

You are correct that copyrights and intellectual property should be protected. But why is the intellectual property and technology created by Napster any less valuable or less worthy of protection? Should the thousands of unknown artists, writers, and performers be denied access to the public by making the distribution vehicle illegal?

Again, I will argue that it is irrelevant that the technology Napster created can be used illegally when it was launched and may be used for a legal purpose. A significant percentage of copies made on photocopiers violate copyrights, so should we ban photocopiers?

The unknown performers who write and perform most of the music are willing to give it away and have it distributed via Napster – this is so when they come to your town and perform for $500 they have an audience. Do you really believe that recording companies want a technology around that makes it possible for GREAT musicians and performers to distribute their works without them? Do you really believe the record companies want artists to have that much artistic freedom? Do you really believe the record companies hired expensive lawyers and spent millions of dollars to protect the artist or a copyright?

Do you think the street musician, the garage band that practices every weekend, or the waitress-blues-singer believes it was about protecting copyrights? It was not to protect copyrights that the record industry went after Napster–it was to protect their DISTRIBUTION MONOPOLIES—the SPIN was that it was to protect artists’ copyrights. And, it appears that the spin worked.

The great Hollywood studio system died when it was broken up by the courts. This was because they controlled the entire process: the writing, filming, hiring, distribution, and cash collection at the theatres. Just as now, the entire music publishing and distribution process is controlled by the record companies. The great independent films that we now enjoy are a result of the breakup of this unholy monopoly. And so it will be true for the music industry. Napster was the first pioneer and it is just the first victim. This is the musical equivalent of the film industry’s early battles with the Eastman-Kodak cartel: the smashing of cameras, the beatings and murders of the secret producers, the destruction of the theatres that showed independent works, and the burning of precious celluloid they created.

The argument of the safari being brought on to my game reserve is a great argument. My hat is off to you! But there is a hole in the argument: This game park doesn’t belong to me or to anyone else. The park is owned by the public (artistic freedom AND the Internet). A chain link fence has just been erected around the game park, the music company executives hold the keys, and the public has to pay admission. The sign outside the park reads, "Welcome to Hotel California."

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