Reporter’s Notebook

By Richard Kwon, 16, Loyola HS
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Illustration by Alia Aidyralieva, 17, Bravo Medical Magnet

Since 19-year-old Shawn Fanning founded Napster in 1999, it has been the center of endless controversy. It has been loved by thousands of students and music fans. Unlike some other music Web sites, Napster doesn’t sell songs. Instead, it offers a free software program that allows users to find and download songs in MP3 format, the best quality music format on the Web. Since all users who install this software are required to share whatever music they have on their computers, Napster gives users access to a gigantic music archive of hit songs. With the Napster software, all I needed to know was a name of a song or an artist. I would type it in, and it would give me numerous choices of a song that I wanted.

However, Napster has several powerful enemies. In December of 1999, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which represents 18 record labels, sued Napster and requested that it be shut down and pay more than $100 million in damages. The industry argued that Napster violated song copyrights by allowing those songs to be distributed free to its users. Napster stated that it does not encourage anyone to steal songs, noting that the Web site has posted a warning that says swapping of unauthorized MP3 files is illegal. In a U.S. News and World Report article, former Napster CEO Eileen Richardson said, "We can’t be responsible for our users. All we’re doing is being an index for a certain kind of file format." In July, the judge of that trial ordered that Napster be shut down; however, Napster appealed and was able to keep itself running.

The industry lawsuit was followed by the lawsuits filed by Dr. Dre and Metallica. According to a U.S. News and World Report’s article, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich said, "It is … sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is."

In addition, more than 50 universities nationwide blocked students’ access to Napster because it was jamming campus computer systems.

Some say it’s the best way to get music

Many teens are not happy with lawsuits against Napster, because it’s such a cheap and easy way of getting music. Prices of most compact discs range from $15 to $20—expensive for most teens. "Some artists put everything they got into their music. But 18 bucks for a CD? That’s a gyp. Even with the costs of the studio, publicity, and the work put into it, CDs are not worth 18 bucks," said Ben Pascual, 16, of Damien High School.

"I could look into songs by [Napster] and buy CDs that I think are worth buying," said Eric Rojas, 16, of Loyola High School. Once, Rojas spent $16 on a CD that had two good songs and ten bad songs. However, with Napster, he now checks out songs on CDs before buying them and make sure that his money is spent on the right CDs.

In addition, Napster saves time. Instead of going to Tower Records or Wherehouse, users can sit comfortably in their rooms, and after clicking the mouse a few times, have a song they want. "I won’t have problems finding music [because of Napster], but also it’s less of a trip," says David Chacon, 17, of Glen A. Wilson High School.

Napster has exposed many users to a variety of music in different genres. Now, a teen who couldn’t afford to buy CDs of different artists can use Napster to listen to songs of diverse artists in new genres. "I listen to a lot more variety [of music] than I got before," says Raymond Oh, 17, of Loyola High School. Oh, who is a cellist, says, "Napster helped me to listen to other kinds of music than classical music. My favorite music is like trance and hip-hop."

Teens get to know new artists through Napster as well. Some artists who haven’t signed record deals praise Napster for helping their songs become known. "Many up-and-comers and underground people enjoy Napster because it gives them a chance to be heard. It’s sorta like free publicity for them," said Pascual.

Some teens think that artists are already making a lot of money from their albums and merchandise sales. By trying to shut down Napster, they are simply being greedy, forcing people to buy their CDs so they can make even more money. "They are really getting [back] at their fans, " said Rojas.

Others say it’s stealing

Nevertheless, others think that the record companies and artists have a legitimate argument. They believe that Napster encourages the piracy of copyrighted songs by giving users an easy way to download or share copyrighted songs without any real restrictions. "Us downloading music for free is illegal, and artists have the right to say that we should pay," said Fred Che, 17, of South Hills High School. Artists like Blink-182, DMX, Garth Brooks, and Sisqo published an ad in the L.A. Times that said: "If a song means a lot to you, imagine what it means to us," with a reference to their Web site,

Moreover, Napster enables Internet surfers to get unreleased songs. For example, Madonna’s remake of "American Pie" was available through Napster before its release because someone copied that song from the advance-promotion CD into his or her hard drive.

The record companies argue that Napster may lead to the downfall of the music industry by cutting into music sales. "It’s the upcoming artists that are hurt by Napster. They get gypped and don’t get that much money from people buying their CDs because people just download it from Napster," said Che. Web swapping of copyrighted songs cost the U.S. recording industry over $300 million per year in lost sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

How will the outcome of Napster trials affect Web music swappers? The answer, I think, is that they will not. Napster has opened a gate to another way of listening to the music, and the gate cannot be closed. There are countless Napster-like programs, like Scour and Gnutella. They’re not companies, they’re just software that allows users to share songs between individual computers without central servers. This means that the music industry or artists would have to sue all the users of those programs, but there are too many users to sue. It’s like a riot where police officers can’t arrest every single person who is out on streets. I think it will be interesting to see how the music industry adapts to Web music swapping in the next few years.