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° Rubrique About The World

ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

  Rebels on the Net

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Napster's activities, or rather its users' activities, have become the focus of a major debate throughout the United States, especially on American campuses. Obviously what is heard across the board from the plaintiffs is basically what all the victims of piracy have always proclaimed: that it kills business, and that there is nothing glamourous in it. The novelty is that small-scale, independent entrepreneurs and unknown musicians are joining the fray and are developing their own means to fight Napster, such as dropping "cuckoos-eggs", "bombs" or "Trojan horses" (empty or falsely labeled music files) on the Net to thwart the functioning of Napster.

Like the majors, they consider Napster as sheer robbery, depriving them from their livelihood. More famous names have also come forward in support of the RIAA's action such as Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh, Black Crowes' lead singer Chris Robinson, Jonatha Brooke, Sara McLachlan or Mick Jagger, on ads sponsored by the RIAA, that read "I support the RIAA and its actions against Music Archive Sites on the Internet because copyright is my lifeline, without it recording artists would drown," or "Don't trash us by pirating sound recordings on the Net. Get real. Get legit.". Some artists, like Metallica or Dr. Dre have even gone one step further and have personally sued Napster. 
The main arguments of Napster's opponents, artists and labels alike, is that the works are used without their permission, and that such practises ultimately hurt and penalize lesser-known artists since fewer official CD sales may induce their record companies to terminate their contracts.

On the other side, one can also find a surprisingly high number of musicians and independent record companies (Alan Kovac, president of Left Bank Management, which represents the Bee Gees and Motley Crüe, Jim Guerinot, owner of Time Bomb Records and manager for The Offspring and No Doubt...) supporting Napster users. Their arguments sound as convincing as those of their opponents: they maintain that Napster gives musicians, particularly the more obscure ones, greater exposure (indeed, Napster home page features a "discovery" zone and a chatroom where users are encouraged to discuss their more offbeat tastes and discoveries); they point to customers' frustration with CDs' high prices ($16 on average) and to the fact that downloading is actually creating more demand (according to the RIAA Annual Report, music sales have risen from $13.7 to 14.6 billion in 1999: the hordes of college students and music fans who have embraced Napster also seem to be the music industry's best customers);3 they also underscore the invaluable interaction thus created between artists and their audience which contributes to bypass traditional restraints (limited radio promotion, bin space in stores and number of spots on the record company roster...).

Another argument is that even if income from CDs or paid downloads gets hurt by the new trade in free tracks online, artists can make up for it through other means, like touring and the sale of paraphernalia, while labels might pass on some savings from lower marketing and promotion costs and cuts on expensive middlemen. Finally, all insist on the convenience and ease of use of Napster which allows to get whatever music one wants almost immediately and in a form that allows it to be played anywhere (car radios, portable players, home stereos...).

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° Rubrique About The World