Everyone remembers the ever-so-infamous original Napster. Shawn Fanning’s creation of the late-nineties took the interweb community by storm. Originally hosted over his cable connection at his San Mateo apartment, it took very little time for the program to spread to every pimple-faced teenager with a 28.8k modem. This was not the first file-sharing application available, as Scour Exchange had been around for some time prior, but by late-2000 it had developed the largest mainstream following of any before it. In any case, hard drives whirred, keyboards tapped, mice clicked, and a revolution had begun. The euphoria lasted only two short years before, in 2001, all hell broke loose in the US Courts. We remember the course of events all-too-well. Dr. Dre and Metallica teamed up with the then RIAA.org (now more fittingly RIAA.com) and brought legal action against the fledgling Napster Inc.
The court case was an emotional one. We all remember reading headlines that outlined when the service would be “temporarily” interrupted for the duration of the proceedings, and following our noses to any available DSL connection. Suffice to say, Napster was shut down, and in time the company itself faltered. It lost the support of its venture capitalists, and in time the “Napster” trademark was all that remained.
In late 2002, a well-known media company made a winning bid to purchase the Napster trademark. Roxio, producer of the popular (but decidedly not-as-good-as-Nero) Easy CD Creator for PC and Toast for Macintosh, had made a strategic purchase catapulting it into the still-young digital music market. For a time there was little news from the company about the future of Napster. Phrases such as “pay-for-play” and “I hate Roxio” floated around in forums and message boards for several months. But the truth would become apparent all-too-soon.
During this time, other networks had begun to develop widespread use. Most notably was the Fasttrack network that grew into what is now known as Kazaa. Morpheus was the first widespread browser to be used by many for this network, but it transitioned over to access the Gnutella network when money was required to license the Fasttrack protocols (it was not open source). It now accesses most of the networks. Kazaa lived on, and became the most popular service ever to date. Millions of people access the network constantly, and much can be shared over it. AudioGalaxy (now the pay-to-play Rhapsody digital music service) also made an appearance and remains the coolest peer-to-peer solution to date (Rhapsody is not nearly as awesome). A close second is the still-alive-and-well Soulseek.
In May of 2003, Roxio purchased Pressplay, which was a legal digital music distribution service started as a joint venture by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. This was the final step in creating what is now referred to as Napster 2.0. The service is typical, and mirrors the price points previously established by the popular iTunes digital music service. For a dollar per song or ten per album you can download all the music you want.
There is a difference between the new Napster and iTunes, though. Between the adjournment of the Napster case and the present, the RIAA has sued many uploaders who were unfortunate enough to be caught. This includes many young girls and seniors, as well as several people between the ages of 18 and 24. But the RIAA does not have enough of a budget to sue all of who are un-patriotic enough to download and upload music. So it did something else: it started to promote Napster in the college circuit.
Well, that is not entirely true. The RIAA doesn’t necessarily “promote” Napster as much as it “threatens the colleges with lawsuits if they don’t subscribe to it.” The first colleges to sign up for this pay-or-die service were Penn State and The University of Rochester. In the end, the terms are that students, all students, plugged into the residential internet service of the universities are required to pay a monthly fee, currently three dollars, for the service. This is regardless of whether or not they use the service. “Three dollars,” you ask, “that’s not that bad, right?” Well, no, it’s not. But, considering you can only use the service while you’re at school, and when you graduate, you leave both the service and the music you’ve downloaded, the deal begins to sour. You have to pay even if you don’t use the service. If you download songs on the school’s network, you have to pay full price ($.99 or $10.00 per song or album) to retain your library. Effectively, you pay for the music twice. Good job, Roxio. You have the RIAA to thank.
Recently (yesterday), six more schools signed up for the service with a katana at their neck: Cornell University, George Washington University, Middlebury College, University of Miami, University of Southern California and Wright State University. This is sad for me, as one of these schools is the one in which I am currently enrolled. I have no intention of paying for this crap, especially under the above conditions. Already, a petition network is forming at USC to defuse this before it becomes more of an issue. If you attend any of the schools on this list, I suggest that you do the same and begin educating your peers about the situation. Start petitions; speak out: practice that for which we seem so eager to kill and subsequently give away. Do not let this spread.