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Learning from Napster

by Allen Weiss  |  
February 15, 2001

By now you’ve probably heard about This is the free software that allows consumers to connect to the net and easily and freely download any MP3 files stored on the computers of other consumers connected to the net at the same time.

Napster, and now its clones, is generating all sorts of debates in the press. For example, is what Napster doing legal? The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) says Napster encourages piracy on a grand scale. I agree, although Napster is predictably saying they have little control over what users do with their software. Right. Lawyers will make lots of money on this one.

Is Napster ripping off artists? Not directly, but Napster certainly encourages it. Aside from live appearances, musicians and songwriters make their living off of music sales, and piracy takes money from these artists.

And those who say this is about sharing, not stealing, because music is not a "physical" good just don’t understand the value of intellectual and artistic capital.

Most of all, will Napster represent the end of the music industry, as we know it? Maybe, but unlikely. We’ve heard this type of wild conjecture before remember how computers were supposed to dispose of the paper industry and of course the Internet would quickly eliminate bricks and mortar stores.


When I first heard of Napster, I thought of how piracy often indicates an unmet customer need. I’m not talking about isolated piracy, but the wide spread type evident with Napster. The other interpretation is that a large number of arguably reasonable people - such as college students - have simply turned into a bunch of thieves. I’m just not inclined towards this alternative simplistic view.

No, there must be a gulf between what the record industry sells and what music consumers now want.

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Allen Weiss is the founder and publisher of He can be reached at

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