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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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What is more surprising is to observe how Napster supporters have turned the issue into a free-speech debate and a struggle of resistance against American corporations and capitalism at large. Several associations have come up to organize the struggle on campuses, such as Students Against University Censorship (SAUC). Some of the technical press has also sided with them. For these groups, Napster represents a necessary form of subversion, challenging the goals and methods of transnational companies.

By subversion I understand literally telling one's own "version" of the music business and overturning the majors', refusing to ratify, to subscribe to their logos (Serres, 10). The young have often embraced specific musical genres because of their subversive potential, because of the oppositional stance they represented against their parents, society or the law, whatever the mythical dimension of such claims. Napster's activities appear as both dangerous, since they are illegal, and chivalrous, which adds to their attraction. More than just a means to get free music, Napster has become a righteous cause. As Daniel Nazar writes, "the battle is longer legal, it is moral", and rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy adds: "It's a fantastic way to build a minor league system of artists. It's Napster on one side and major labels on the other. Pick your side."(quoted by Brown). 
With the struggle metaphorically and hyperbolically described as a fight between David and Goliath, and Fanning as a new Robin Hood, the picking is easy. Napster has become a paradigm of youth,4 intelligence, small scale, independence and modernity against middle-aged, stilted, ossified corporate executives.


How can Napster actually subvert the music industry? It first of all defies its omnipotence, its quasi-monopolistic organisation (according to a SAUC leaflet, "The RIAA isn't worried about money, they want power"). Napster also challenges the majors' raison d'être since it destroys "the option value" they offer. With Napster, consumers no longer depend on record companies to provide them with a medium, the CD, cassette or LP, that would give him the option to listen to a specific music where and when they want, something the radio or television does not.

This is now offered free of charge by Napster and mp3.com, which suppresses the traditional media's added-value. Furthermore, until now, record companies have relied on retail outlets, whether it be mall chains or independent stores, for the distribution of their products. The various attempts by majors to complement this vertical, top-down organisation with a more direct, horizontal one, the sale of digital music on line, have been extremely limited (in October 2000, BMG offered 125 titles from both singles and albums, EMI 100, Sony 50, and Universal only 60 tracks); the songs are slow and difficult to download (it took several hours to purchase an album on EMI's site) and expensive (as much as $3.49 for one song). Napster offers a free, ubiquitous, decentralized and user-friendly system that so far majors cannot beat. 
It is also paving the way for a new manner of using the Internet called P2P, peer-to-peer files sharing (which was, incidentally, the original principle of the Internet before it became a mere repository for specific data-bases).

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° Rubrique About The World