"Napster," Mitch said with contempt, in much the same way you might say "Nazi skinhead" or "Jesse Helms".

Mitch is a working musician. He puts in long, hard hours in his home studio making music that he's passionate about and which he hopes to make a living from. A few months ago he had to sell his entire CD collection to make ends meet. In other words, he is not Metallica, though Metallica was probably like this once.

"A bunch of musicians I know submit defective tracks to Napster," he said. "There's no way to verify the quality of what you're downloading, and most people just grab them indiscriminately. So they'll record three and a half minutes of white noise and label it as some Marilyn Manson song or whatever. Or have the song cut out halfway through. Within minutes it's been downloaded by hundreds of people. Others download it from them, and eventually there are thousands of copies floating around of this useless track."

I didn't say anything. I was thinking of the version of 'Born To Be Wild' I'd snagged online, the one that ended three-fourths of the way through.

"It's a way to get back at all these people who are ripping us off," he continued. "They don't realize that we aren't just doing this for fun; this is our work." He shook his head, the very picture of someone who feels he has been Fucked Over. "Music ain't free, kiddies," he said finally.

I considered debating the point, mentally marshaling the usual pro-Napster arguments, but just then they all sounded lame to me. I thought about the ten CDs worth of music I'd downloaded and burned a few months before, and about the people who'd made that music. However famous or obscure, they were probably a lot like my friend Mitch; ordinary men and women whose product, into which they'd poured years of blood and sweat, is being blithely copied around by people who not only won't pay for it but self-righteously proclaim that they're seizing the moral high ground in doing so. Hell, if I were them I'd probably be pissed too.

Who is the counterculture here, I wondered? Napster users sticking it to the Man by refusing to pay the record companies' ridiculously inflated prices for music? Or Mitch's friends, working-class pranksters throwing a wrench into the brave new world of the "free music" digerati?

All I knew is, I suddenly felt a lot less cool.

There's nothing morally superior about Napster, that much is true. But there isn't anything superior about clamouring for one's right to be making money on the back of art.

Art should be free. Artists should have full bellies and good lifestyles, but art should nevertheless be free. In municipal galleries, on the radio, on TV, there is already art which is not being payed for by the consumer - a convenient way around the problem of financing was found in the form of sponsorship and advertising.

One of these days we'll reconcile these two opposing principles as they apply to music - and the Napster fracas is the first step on that road.

See, I dunno, maybe this is me, but this is what I want from my music.

I want people to hear it.

Maybe that's just me. I don't want money, I'm far too stupid and idealistic for that.

If I could put music on my homenode, I would.

Maybe music isn't free, but I've never had trouble giving.

Let me tell you a story about the evolution of the "music industry."

150 years ago, before mass media, before sound reproduction technology, there was one way, and one way only, that you got to hear music.

Someone played it for you.

You have all been born, and will die, in a world that does not work that way. Try to stretch your mind and imagine what that means.

Your friend "Mitch," the Napster-hating musician, would have had a trade, which would, if he was any good at all, result in persistent, gainful employment - in bars, concert halls, as a regular or a traveler. He wouldn't have to "starve in his garage" as the cliche goes now - if he was average, like you and me, he would make an average living, playing music every night. If he was really, especially good, he could hope for "fame" - fame in 1850 was completely unrelated to what it was today, though it was coming along - there were newspapers, and within a few decades advances in paper-making technology would make them very cheap. No musician, in their wildest dreams, could have envisioned the vast accumulation of wealth today's artists - like Mitch, apparently - now feel entitled to. But if they could have understood what machine playback and distribution really meant for them, they would have fought it to a bloody death. Why?

Because it destroyed their livelihood.

In historical terms, the one-two punch of the phonograph and the radio decimated the musician's trade virtually overnight. The traveling musician that had been with us for tens of thousands of years (and perhaps much longer; music, by many acounts, predates spoken language, in human development) has practically vanished - she is now a curiosity - and a starving one. She was replaced by a machine.

What we got instead was, arguably, better music. The competition between musicians became national, and then, global. We also got, for every 10,000 artists that were no longer making a living, one celebrity. One person who would make - to use a wonderful modern idiom - "stupid money."

Oh, there was music piracy in 1850, too. Sheet music piracy. That's really, at the end of the day, a consequence of the printing press - which was just barely starting to do to the written word what the victrola would later do to music.

It didn't take very long for people to understand the consequences of this aberrant technology - and to exploit it. The amazing concentration of wealth that mass media made possible quickly bent the legislators of its host countries into submission to abet it. Legislators, especially, have a unique appreciation for the power of the radio and the television - and the people who control them.

This has fostered a culture where people somehow believe our current intellectual property laws represent some kind of divine right - that God intended for there to be record companies and millionare musicians and celebrities. They don't realize the whole thing is an accident barely 100 years old. That's less than the blink of an eye in human history. They also don't, apparently, realize the consequences.

The real beneficiaries of the current system (not the musicians, in case you were wondering - the publishers) can tend be ruthless. Propaganda is their first, and best, approach to any threat to their status. Mitch is a victim of that propaganda - he's being told that his chance to win the lottery of celebrity in the current system is "right" and that "Napster" is wrong.

However, it was an accident that put the modern musician in the place they are today - and there is nothing saying another accident might not come along and take it all away. That's a risk we all face.

Napster is not the future of music. But it represents the beginning of it. Our latest accident has made it virtually free to distribute music - and it was only a distribution stranglehold that has created the current music industry. They (the major labels, distributors, and retailers) will protect their interests - they are willing and able to lobby politicians and have had great success in getting their legislative agendas enacted, in America and elsewhere.

What Mitch - the skeptical musician - thinks of Napster tells me he's ready to believe what the wrong people tell him. That's unfortunate. Napster itself will most likely not survive its bout with the RIAA - but its children will, eventually. And they will, perhaps, make music a little less of an industry and more like what it was. Where anyone can be their own record label and record store. It's about cutting out the middleman.

And they may not get rich, but they will be free.

You guys who are downloading music without paying for it are stealing, you know. Is it so hard to admit? Why do you need to come up with justifications for it, when everyone already knows anyways. You are no better than someone lifting a crate of CD's off of the back of a truck, or from a music store. The only difference is lack of physical labor involved.

Suddenly you can get songs for free on p2p products and suddenly everyone is a communist. "Art should be free." It belongs to the people!

Yeah, right.

If not for the artist, the art would not be there for you to enjoy. How can you claim to have the right something you could not possibly have on your own? You are getting something from someone else. Something you obviously enjoy. So if the artist does not want to give it away, than he/she can make that choice.

"The Napster fracas is the first step on that road." The first step on the road to getting artists treated like shit. What is the problem with paying the artist for his/her work?

"Music should be free"? It is a highly valued service, in capitalism, valuable things are paid for. Maybe if we were communists it should be free, along with everything else. But how come I don't hear people speaking so passionately that food and shelter should be free. Those are things that people need to survive. If anything should be free, it is those things.

If there is one thing that can be learned from Napster it is how flimsy most peoples morals are. Almost everyone is a thief when they can get away with it. What's worse than the thief is the thief who says he is not a thief, making up justifications.

In reply to Excalibre and others that have messaged me with similar things to say...

I believe that copying someone’s material, even though it does not take something from the owner, is still stealing if you would have bought it anyways. In the Madonna example below, I do not think that is stealing because you would not have bought it anyway. It really is not different from hearing it on the radio, and I do not think that listening to something you would not buy is a concern to anyone. What I am concerned with is when you are downloading music that you would of otherwise bought.

Perhaps there are people like Excalibre who buy more music than they would if there was not p2p software. I do not know anyone else who that is true of, however. I know people who had huge collections of CD’s but have not bought any at all since they started using Napster. These people would be paying for it if they could not get it for free.

So the question is whether the artist has a right to payment from these people. Under normal circumstances these guys would buy a CD. Buying a CD is paying for the privelage to listen to the music as much as you want, not for the rival, exlcudable, compact disc. People downloading music for this reason are simply ripping off the artist. These artists are distributing their product in exchange for payment. When people download music, intending to enjoy extensively (rather than just sample it or casually listen, as one would do over MTV or the radio), than they are using something that they do not deserve to have.

Repeating what I said above, music is the creation of the artist. The artist is providing somehing that you cannot get anywhere else, that is why the artist deserves to have property rights for their work. So if they choose, they can sell it.

Just because it is not a tangible, rival, excludable good, does not determine whether or not you are entitled to have it. In whatever form you get the music the same rights to the artist still apply. I recieved messages telling me, among other things, the definition of ‘theft’, specifying that it is taking something away from someone, when in this case it is not taking away, it is copying. Call it what you want, but it is taking something that you should have paid for, but did not.

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