- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

The big buzz in the recording industry lately has been music on the Internet.

Napster, an on-line service that offers the software needed to song-swap for free, is in the middle of it. The company is being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America, the rock group Metallica, and rapper Dr. Dre for violation of copyright laws.

Bruce Fries, a local resident and party tape maker by hobby, knows all about services like Napster and on-line trading of music files, like MP3s: He even wrote a book about it entitled "The MP3 and Internet Audio Handbook."

Question: Why has music accessible via the Internet become so popular?

Answer: The reason is that when CDs came out, you had to buy a new piece of equipment a CD player that cost $500-$800 at first. With MP3 files, most people that have adopted this technology already have the computers at home, and got them at a very low cost.

That's why Napster has more than 20 million people using it: Because you don't have to go and get a new piece of equipment. It's just a matter of downloading the MP3 files or whatever other format the music is in.

Q: What is the significance of services like Napster?

A: To me, Napster illustrates the tremendous demand for music in formats like MP3 from major artists. People want to go to a single source where they can get any song, by any artist, and the reason Napster exists is because the major labels have chosen not to fulfill the demand for formats like MP3.

If they were to open up their catalogs and make the music available, to buy the song, which is what people want, it would be better. People are fed up with spending $18 for a CD for just one good song. Otherwise, Napster wouldn't have a chance. The labels could easily create a legitimate alternative to Napster, and many of the Napster users would gladly pay a couple of bucks per song, or pay a monthly fee.

Q: Do you think Napster is hurting or helping record sales?

A: Well, Napster has grown to more than 20 million users in less than a year it's the fastest growing Internet service ever. And that's with no advertising. And, two studies have shown that about half of Napster users actually purchase more CDs based on music they download via Napster; The other half just want something for free. And record sales are actually up from the past year. So I think Napster both helps and hurts the industry.

Q: Is there anything in the history of sound entertainment that reminds you of what is happening now with Napster and similar sites?

A: When you go back and look at the history of the recording industry, every time there has been a new technology that makes music either more convenient or more portable, the recording industry has initially opposed it. This happened with FM radio. The industry was worried that it would hurt record sales. Exactly the opposite happened. FM radio actually helped build awareness for albums.

The same thing happened with cassette tapes. The recording industry was worried cassette tapes would be used for pirated music, and they would take away from sales. The cassette tape actually became a way for delivering music. Also, people who made cassette tapes would lend them to a friend, who would also make a new recording, and it would get passed around. So people would hear about it, and go and buy the CD because they wanted a higher quality of sound.

Ironically, that's how Metallica got started. They actually encouraged people to make live recordings at their concerts and play them on tape. Same with Pearl Jam and the Grateful Dead. They quickly learned that their fans were actually helping promote their music by making those bootleg copies.

The industry also made a lot of noise when the VCR was introduced. Jack Valenti (president of the Motion Picture Association of America) said the VCR is to the movie industry like the Boston Strangler is to the lone woman. That was his quote. Two decades later, they make twice as much money from video sales and rentals.

Q: What percentage of the music available through Napster is pirated?

A: Oh, it's hard to say. On a service like Napster, I would say over 90 percent. But I prefer the term unauthorized copies. Piracy implies criminal intent, and many of the people that trade MP3 files they are not really trying to steal music. They are just trying to find some good music, and they are going to find it whatever way they can.

Q: There is a chapter of copyright law in your book. While writing it, did you expect that it would become such a big issue?

A: That's interesting, because I was surprised that it's one of the most popular chapters. When I was writing the book a year and a half ago, I was thinking, 'Why should I put this in?' and I was tempted to keep it out. I never realized …

At the end, the reason I included that chapter is because I felt that was the responsible thing to do. I said to myself, 'I am teaching people how to become, potentially, users of pirated music or whatever.' So I felt responsible about making it clear what's right and what's wrong according to the copyright laws.

Q: How many on-line services are there where people can download music?

A: Probably about half a dozen or so. There are services similar to Gnutella [where users can download music without logging on to a single server], there are Gnutella clones, and even Napster clones. There are also services like Scour.net, which is a search engine that links you to files that are on-line.

Q: What's in the future for MP3 files and services like Napster?

A: Well, we are in the beginning of a major revolution that will take several years to play out. This is a much more significant change than the introduction of CDs in the 1980s. The landscape of the music industry is going to be virtually reshaped for the next five, 10 years. What's going to happen is, I think, the recording industry is going to be forced to go back to a single model.

As to MP3, well, MP3 is not the best format out there. There are already other formats that are better … But MP3 is here to stay for a while, because it was the first format to be widespread. And sometimes being first is more important than having a superior format.

Q: Do you think there can be any deal made between the recording industry and Napster?

A: The record labels need to license their music to services like Napster. Napster could then sell advertising, and some of the money could go back to the labels, the artists, and song writers. With an advertising model, the users would still get the music for free, but [Napster] could track the downloads and give a portion of that revenue back to the artists and record labels.

On the other hand, if they shut down Napster and the recording industry just charged a subscription fee, say $9.99 a month, I bet half of Napster's users would just move on to other sites, like Gnutella, that can't be shut down by lawsuits.

So the recording industry needs to make way for the new technology. There could be more battles in the courts, but ultimately, the technology is going to prevail. I mean, you can't stop technology. Nobody owns MP3s, and no one owns the Internet.

The recording industry is making a huge mistake. If you shut down Napster, then people are going to go to services like Gnutella. With Napster at least they have a management team they can negotiate with. With Gnutella, there is no company to sue, no management they can negotiate with, no central server to shut down.



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