Steven Meinking on Wed, 10 May 2000 18:06:57 +0200 (CEST)

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Let me open by stating that I am among those that do not advocate
intellectual property rights, but that is not why I am replying to your

I simply do not agree that Napster, essentially a file-swapping client
that facilitates the sharing of mp3 files via an active user database, is
a threat to free software.  Linux, the free software example you mention
in your article, is first and foremost, an operating system.  Napster is
merely a file-sharing client that itself was _not_ bootlegged (even if the
file-type that it permits one to share is in certain contexts).  The two
are radically different from each other in architecture and function. 

In regard to Linux, I remember the founding programmers' intentions to be
somewhat different from what you claim in your article.  Linux authors did
intend to produce a free OS for all to use, and this act was a revolution
(not entirely peaceful I might add) against corporate mammoths like
Microsoft.  But the point was not simply to make a free OS, an
accomplishment which could have been achieved by bootlegging code from the
other corporate operating systems.  Rather, the point, and what makes
Linux an outstanding achievement as an OS, was to make a _better_
operating system.  In order to accomplish such a goal, the authors had to
start from scratch, and the open source method of Linux's design has only
made it a more effective OS over time. 

Which leaves one to reconsider the question: Does Napster hurt free
software?  When I think of free software I think of a broad scope of
applications.  I think of programs I downloaded off the net by anonymous
others asking for no compensation, software produced by people who wanted
to solve a problem, and in solving the problem, made the solution
available to everyone else.  I think of corporate main-stay plug-ins like
Apple's QuickTime or Macromedia's Shockwave and Flash.  I think of themes
that computer users create for their desktops and share with others, other
applications like browsers and instant messaging programs, and file types
like .wavs, .mpegs and .mp3s that users pass around.  Will Napster put a
dent in this sort of industry, an industry on which our very experience of
the Internet is predicated and thrives?  I think not.  Napster's very
existence is a testament to this industry's continued proliferation. 

There are a myriad of complex problematics behind the push against Napster
which you neglect to mention.  One of the primary moves is against the
.mp3 format, and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is
the organization that spearheads this movement. The RIAA is a dinosaur of
an organization who continues to operate and profit on a business model
that is several decades old.  The RIAA was well aware of the mp3 format
when it emerged from the depths of the Internet underground, but dismissed
its utility and viability. Their business model myopia of distributing and
selling tangible consumer products blinded them to the potential of a
digital revolution in mp3.  Instead of exploiting mp3's potential, the
RIAA insisted on continuing to push on consumers an antiquated (and
overpriced?)  product in the form of the compact disc. (One should keep in
mind that if a cd-writer is available to them, it is possible to convert a
current catalog of cds to mp3 [called ripping], and in so doing,
dramatically reduce the size of your catalog without giving up content -
my former catalog of 100+ cds now fit nicely into 12 mp3 compilation discs
and I was able to sell the cds as well [the Las Vegas trip it funded was
very enjoyable]). 

There is no doubt that the future will bring its share of proprietary
software that possesses its own encryption or code for file operation.
This is nothing new, and is already very much in effect today.  And the
history of these projects have shown time and again that where there is a
programmer who may write the software, there is a more clever programmer
that can crack it (DVD is an outstanding example of this). 

The fact of the matter is that most of these proprietary projects have
been in the works for years now, long before the advent and popularity of
Napster.  And I see nothing conclusive anywhere that points to the
influence of Napster as directly fueling work in these industries. 

- Steven Meinking

Texts and Projects:

"I know of no better aim of life than that of perishing, _animae magnae
prodigus_, in pursuit of the great and the impossible."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, _Untimely Meditations_

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