By Dave Kenney
Somewhere Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is chuckling and baring his cigarette-smoke-stained teeth with glee. He should be very thrash happy because the record industry has what it wants, and–more importantly–artists like Ulrich have inched closer to protecting their art.
On Tues., Feb. 9, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the music-bartering, online entity Napster. Now Napster must cease trading copyrighted material, AKA allowing anyone to post and/or download a musician’s work without permission. To add insult to injury, Napster may be held liable for "vicarious copyright infringement."
Such an attack is somewhat reminiscent of the battle with OLGA (Online Guitar Archive). Like Napster, OLGA served as a music resource, instead providing guitar sheet music. And while OLGA was forced to shut down, just type in "guitar sheet music" on any search engine and you’re bound to find some. Napster is simply a scapegoat.
And if Napster is shut down or forced to become a "pay for play" service, the record industry is kidding itself if it thinks it can lasso the potential cash cow online music presents. Somewhere some kid with a computer hard-on will find a way to tip-toe around any obstacle. Napster is only an afterthought.
Besides, many acts already recognize the benefits of using a "Napster" to reach listeners. Dave Matthews Band recently released their latest single, "I Did It," first through Napster and made headlines throughout the music community.
Using such pre-album publicity reaches a band’s global audience and makes people itch to buy the record once it’s released. Then again, people might just download the album. Either way, it gets people curious about the music and maybe into the seats at a show. For independent acts, outlets like Napster provide a way of getting the product out, even it is profit-free. Such a freebie could eventually mean better-attended concerts, the lifeblood of any recording act.
Ultimately, Napster and its copycats are viable alternatives to paying outrageous prices for CDs. But do artists deserve to be ripped off? No, but record labels already take a heavy share of album profits. Do record labels need to lower CD prices and share more profits with artists? Definitely. Are the Napsters of the online world all about theft? Not necessarily.
Stay tuned to your computer.