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Napster's Alternatives Lead The War Charge

Media Portrays Napster's Trial With False Importance

By Derek Slater

What is this "Napster" that has graced the front page of nearly every major news publication?

Napster is a free computer program that allows Internet users to download virtually any song they want. Users do not download the songs from Napster's servers, but rather from other Napster users. For instance, if you want to download some Metallica songs, you can perform a search for their songs. If I happen to be using Napster at the same time, and I have Metallica songs, you could download the song straight from my computer while I would retain a copy. At the same time, your music and everyone else's music on Napster would be available to me.

The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) views Napster users as thieves, since they do not pay the record industry for the songs they download. According to the RIAA, Napster is legally responsible for this theft since their servers facilitate it. Napster claims that the users themselves are responsible, since Napster clearly tells every user to "not use the Napster service to infringe the intellectual property rights of others in any way."

Some users of Napster claim that the music industry should wake up and smell the Internet-music-coffee. Allowing people to download music on the Internet could provide a cheaper, easier method for distributing music. If the recording industry clings to CDs and their exorbitant prices, then people will continue to download music for free via Napster. Other users contend that Napster has created tremendous interest in music and has contributed to music industry sales, which reached a record high last year. Napster users have convenient access to lots of music and, therefore, listen to more music. They are also more likely to hear something they like which they will then buy. A recent study commissioned by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania showed that Napster users purchase as much or more music after using the service, while a RIAA study revealed the opposite.

Who's right? Who's wrong? That's what the courts are out to decide in Napster's upcoming trial. Publications across the globe have managed to muddle the public's view of the situation by stating that Napster is already dead. Although the courts nearly shut down Napster's servers until the trial, this does not mean the court ruled against Napster. The court simply placed a preliminary injunction against them, which is common for a case involving a potentially large loss of money. The court later overturned this injunction, however.

The press has also forgotten that Napster was only the first program to allow for such easy music transfer. Even if Napster is shutdown for good, people will still have a way to swap music via the Internet. Napster opened the door to several programs that are just like it, if not better.

Spinfrenzy Xchange (, AG Satellite (, Scour Exchange (, and several other programs work almost exactly like Napster. They are not quite as fast or easy to use as Napster, but they provide users with a wealth of songs to download. Napigator ( allows you to connect to other Napster servers that are not run by the Napster corporation. The current court trial against Napster does not impact the non-corporate servers.

The most viable alternative to Napster is Gnutella. Gnutella does not work like the other programs in which you log on to a central server and search the computers of every other user connected to that server. Using Gnutella, you connect directly to other users. Let's say you connect to two other users and those two other users are connected to two other users and so on and so on. After awhile, you might be connected to thousands of people after just connecting to two users. Without a central server, Gnutella cannot be shut down like Napster and its clones. Moreover, there's no company to sue. Various programmers maintain and update Gnutella, but no one owns it. Therefore, even if the RIAA systematically sues each company that runs a Napster-like program, Gnutella will still survive. The only major problem with Gnutella is that it is not as easy to use as the other programs. You will probably have to read a few online tutorials, such as ZDNet's. If you have the patience to learn how to use it, Gnutella is the best Napster alternative.

Certainly, more and more alternatives are yet to come. Napster might die, but file sharing of music is far from dead. In fact, Napster's court case will probably only lead to more problems for the RIAA (, more Napster alternatives, and more people interested in using Napster-like programs because of all the hype and publicity.

What's the answer to this dilemma? No one knows, and the answer might not come until a reformation of copyright or changes in the music industry occur. What is definite is that the RIAA might win this battle, but they have a long way to go in what has turned into a legal war.

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