The Drama You've Been Craving

Decrying (and suing) Napster hasn't been such a bright move.
Elvis is just one superstar whose music is shared via Napster.
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Monday Aug. 14, 2000

20 Million Napster Fans Can't Be Wrong

Or can they? Napster is a way of giving society the finger.

By Michael Goldberg

Can 20 million Napster users be wrong?

That's the question the music business should be pondering right now; the answer drives issues ranging from what motivates artists to be creative to how the biz makes a buck.

Thus far, the industry has found that decrying (and suing) Napster hasn't been such a bright move. As the New York Times and other media have reported, after Judge Marilyn Patel recently issued a temporary injunction — subsequently blocked by a higher court — that would have shut down Napster, millions of music lovers proceeded to use the service to download — some would say steal — even more songs.

What does that say about our society in the year 2000? Or about the subset of people who are into music, are comfortable with the Internet and don't care if what they are doing is wrong?

Napster: Adolescent Rebellion Or Disorganized Crime?

Recently, I discussed Napster with one 13-year-old Godsmack fan, who told me a number of his friends used it. "Napster's pretty cool," he said.

He also said that while he thought some of Metallica's music was pretty good ("I like heavier, harder music, like Godsmack," he added), it "wasn't cool" for Metallica to be suing Napster.

This young man doesn't know what intellectual property is, and doesn't seem to care. He knows what's cool, and for him and his friends Napster fits the bill.

At Woodstock last year, hundreds (thousands?) of young men felt it was perfectly acceptable behavior to demand of the young women there, "Show me your tits!" (Indeed, police officers at that music festival — you know, the people we pay to enforce our laws — urged women to pose topless for photos with them.)

Many in their teens and early 20s find in music (and the culture that goes with it) a way to rebel against mainstream society. Like smoking a joint or chugging a six-pack, using Napster lets a 15-year-old give mom and dad the finger and express solidarity with fellow members of what Spin has called "Generation Mook."

But it's not just the kids who are ripping off the copyright holders. I know one 45-year-old man who's filled his hard drive with music he hasn't paid for. He's not rebelling. He says he's a victim of a corporate music business that charges too much for music. He's decided that $17 is too much to pay for a CD, or at least that's how he rationalizes stealing.

Unfortunately for the music biz, he's not alone. I've spoken with others his age who don't seem to find anything wrong with downloading Metallica (or Dylan) MP3s.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the lobbying group for the major record companies, keeps filing lawsuits: First against a college kid who was making MP3 files of copyrighted material available to others on his web site; then against; most recently against Napster.

Vote In — Law Unenforceable

Trying to stop file sharing with lawsuits is like trying to kill ants with a baseball bat: It doesn't work. Peer-to-peer file sharing is here to stay. The challenge for those who own the songs is to figure out how to make the new technology work for them.

Like the corner-store owner during the L. A. riots who could only watch in horror as his place of business went up in flames, copyright holders find that laws against looting and vandalizing are of little use when the masses choose to ignore them.

The present disconnect between the law and the people who should be obeying it is a very serious problem. As Amy Harmon wrote in the August 6th edition of the New York Times, "...can any court arrest 20 million Napster users around the world?"

In that same article, Harmon quotes Charles Nesson, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. "Law is very vulnerable when it makes orders that don't get enforced," Nesson said. "Law consists of two things: the coercive power to impose a sanction on someone who violates it, and the willingness of people to obey the law without actually putting it to the test. ..."

Napster users have already put the law to the test. The vote's in.

In The Game

The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia (Capitol): Once again, the Dandys' Brit-pop, by way of Portland, Oregon (and a touch of early Pink Floydian psychedelia), is on the mark, big time. One-upping their previous masterwork, 1997's The Dandy Warhols Come Down, Thirteen Tales... will trip you out, especially when listened to on headphones in the post-midnight hours. With its repeated chorus, "If I could sleep forever," "Sleep" is as hauntingly beautiful as it is hypnotic.

De La Soul, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (Tommy Boy): This long-awaited album solidifies the return of De La Soul. Plenty of guests — Black Thought, Chaka Khan, Beastie Boy Mike D, Pharaohe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Redman — keep things lively, but the bottom line is all about the badder-than-ever De La Soul trio. The grooves are righteous and the vibe is right. Check out soulful "All Good?" and "U Can Do (Life)."

Old School

Linda Thompson, Dreams Fly Away (Rykodisc): Unreleased and alternate takes of Richard and Linda Thompson classics such as "Walking On A Wire" and "First Light" make this beautiful collection, released in 1996, essential. The vocals in this showcase of the Thompsons' otherworldly folk-rock may be Linda's, but much of the best songwriting is the work of her ex-husband.

Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

© 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.