Napster: Right or Wrong?
October 3, 2000

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Should consumers be able to share music over the Internet? That question is at the center of a much-publicized court case: the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) vs. Napster. Popular music-sharing service Napster was temporarily spared from shutdown over the summer when an appeals court stayed a federal judge's injunction, but it's fighting once again. Now a three-judge panel must decide if that injunction should stand. Where do you draw the line on music copyrights in the digital world?

The battle continues in the courtroom, and at the Fool. Writers are taking sides. You'll find four of their opinions below. Find out where they stand, cast your vote in our poll, and post your thoughts on the Napster discussion board.

Napster... right or wrong?

Rick Munarriz -- Dueling Fools & News Writer  
Position: Anti-Napster

As an artist completely enamored with the digital distribution of music, I uploaded my music onto MP3.com. In time, the Fool's own Shannon Zimmerman found it on Napster. Orpheus help me! What's my beef? I have no problem with uploading my own songs to free download sites like MP3.com and IUMA that share ad revenues with their artists. That involves both consent and monetization. Napster allows for neither. Artists -- and the record labels -- can't choose whether to give their songs away on Napster. They're just taken away. Period. If it becomes legal to trespass into intellectual property, what becomes the incentive to create? Hunger alone can't fund innovation. When no one drops a coin into the street musician's open guitar case, that corner grows silent -- and we all lose.

Brian Lund -- Rule Breaker Co-Manager  
Position: Pro-Napster

Napster benefits artists. It offers viral marketing on an unprecedented scale, allowing the discovery and exploration of music that cannot easily be found on mainstream radio. Once the user finds new music she enjoys, she's much more eager to buy albums. Very few artists reject this kind of free exposure. It's foolhardy to try to stop people sharing music, in any case. The recording industry, addicted to the blockbuster hit, doesn't benefit from the discovery of new music. It makes much more money if everyone buys only the three premier acts on the label. Its objection to Napster is self-serving and shortsighted.

John Del Vecchio -- Fool Research Analyst  
Position: Anti-Napster

A couple of months ago, I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch a fascinating Senate hearing on the topic of Napster and ownership of intellectual property in the digital age. My impression is that Napster's version of "sharing" is the politically correct word for "stealing." Sure, Napster proponents will say that its service gives good exposure to independent artists. But, if you believe Metallica's numbers, millions of people are downloading their tunes compared with a handful of unknown, unsigned artists.

Unsigned artists volunteer to have their music "shared," while Metallica does not see a dime for millions of downloads. Of course, the music industry is greedy, too. Maybe it should create incentives for people to download music legitimately. There will always be people who steal it, but most people are honest. Napster is also venture-capital backed. The last time I checked, venture capitalists are in business to make money. They should not profit from "sharing" other people's work.

Bob Bobala -- Fool Editor & Occasional Writer  
Position: Pro-Napster

I may have voted Shawn Fanning off the island in Fool Survivor, but you have to be intrigued by any punk who needs bodyguard protection from the likes of Metallica. It's a sad state of affairs when supposed "artists" like Lars Ulrich now side with "The Man" their music once rebelled against. Napster is no more evil than the VCR or cassette recorder -- both products the industry execs originally fought against, only to reap profits from them later. Hey, Lars, it's about money. Who are you kidding? You may no longer need the buzz the Internet and MP3s can offer upstart bands, but don't try to stop the technology, dude. Just hang in your basement practicing your "art" and shut up.

Your Turn:
Cast your vote in our poll and post your opinion on our discussion board.
Is Napster Right... or Wrong?