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.