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Napster/Bmg: edit bookmarks

6/11

It's the news of those days: Bertelsmann, aka Bmg (one of the only 4 major multinational record companies) bought Napster. It's certainly surprising; let's briefly try to understand what this move could mean.

The details: they are thinking to make it a subscription service (4.95 $ a month) and to involve also the other major companies in making "the much loved and used file-sharing technology" finally legal. The Riaa vs Napster court case isn't settled yet, and Bmg is a very active member of Riaa (the recording industry association of America).

It's known that Napster is a peer-to-peer file exchange; the involvement of users is necessary: if everyone just downloaded files there wouldn't be any Napster. The central database (that was the reason Riaa could take Napster to court) it's just a database: the files are converted, stored and distributed by the users. Mp3.com or Iuma, on the other hand, use their own servers and (expensive) bandwidth to distribute their mp3s. Until today Napster has worked well only because of this huge ramification: a capillar distribution network able to carry not only the latest music but also oldies, rare things, out of print albums caringly converted in mp3s by generous maniacs.

And now Bmg spends some petty cash, buys Napster and expects 38 million users to become their converter and distributor, and pay a subscription for this? Who do they think they're dealing with? Haven't they ever seen Gnutella? They should have known better than sue Napster in the first place: if you forbid a technology that many people use and love, another one will come along, 100 times more incontrollable, like Gnutella or Freenet, that could not be stopped even by the authors.

"The much loved and used file-sharing technology" is called file sharing exactly because it involves the ethical act of sharing (despite the slightly un-ethical act of downloading music for free). It is not surprising that a commercial company cannot understand something ethical and, in the attempt to control it, purchases it (if you can't fight them, buy them).

Anyone that knows me knows that, being a musician, I like royalties and I think artists are entitled to earnings from their music, wether authors or players. Napster, with its "free music" policy has open a debate: could music be free to the users, or maybe be paid for in a different way than 15 dollars per cd with two good songs and 14 fillers in it? Perhaps, but certainly not by becoming all Bmg retailers.

There are also a lot of interesting new problems: if Metallica did not want to be distribuited by Napster, I certainly don't want to be distribuited by Bmg; how do they control the flow? This isn't some kid with a cool software anymore: they're Bmg, the great white whale of music publishing. And at this very moment they are involved in distributing some music of mine (through Napster) without authorization. I am an independent musician, I own my masters, I don't belong to the local Riaa (I would rather catch the flu) and I don't like Bmg half as much as I liked the old, thought-provoking, free Napster. Could I sue them?

The end of the story (part 1) is sweet and sour: since a few weeks the mp3 copyright holders are starting to collect dinero from anyone using the technology (http://www.mp3licensing.com/royalty/summary.html). Encoders, decoders but also files and streaming will have to pay a royalty. Up to now they're collecting only from legitimate sites; but if Napster becomes legal...

So no more Napster and no more Mp3 (both definetly "new economy" products, very tightly patented), but nothing changes: Freenet, Gnutella, Mynapster , Opennap are file sharing networks without database (and thus truly incontrollable, dear Bmg) and Vorbis seems to work as well as mp3s. All these technologies are open source, so they're customizable, can be furtherly developed and redistribuited. For free.

If I were Bmg I wouldn't sleep well at all (and I would feel so cool either).

Sergio Messina/RadioGladio
radiogladio@radiolilliput.org

Text url: http://www.radiolilliput.org/napst-en.htm

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