It’s alive! It’s dead! It’s alive! Like a cat with nine lives or a creepy monster from a vintage Bela Lugosi movie — depending on your viewpoint — the beast known as Napster is again stalking the land, terrorizing the record industry.
The story’s been quite the nail-biter thus far. On July 26, a federal judge ordered the shutdown of Napster — which lets fans swap songs over the Internet for free — charging that the insanely popular service (20 million users now, with 70 million predicted by the end of 2000) encourages piracy and tramples copyrights. Record execs whooped; dorm dwellers wailed. Then, two days later, an appeals court gave Napster a last-minute reprieve until late September, when it’s expected to revisit the case — and only after that can the real trial begin.
So, for now, you keep downloading those free Blink-182 tunes. But be warned: This horror show — which will, no exaggeration, determine the future of music — is far from over, and it gets more tangled by the minute. That’s where our handy ”A to Z of the Napster Controversy” comes in. Read on, or risk being the most clueless mosher in the pit.
A — ARTISTS AGAINST PIRACY (AAP)
An angry mob of 70 anti-Napster musicians — including Christina Aguilera, Alanis Morissette, and Bon Jovi — who are trying to remind everyone to pay for music. Chauffeurs and Versace halter tops don’t grow on trees, you know.
B — BUY-COTT
A clever Napster-sponsored publicity stunt. On July 29-30, Napster’s users were urged to buy CDs to prove the Internet isn’t enemy No. 1 of the record industry. Results aren’t in at press time, but Napster CEO Hank Barry offered some anecdotal evidence: ”There were four people at Tower Records last night doing the same thing that I was.” Also in Napster’s favor: Record sales over the past year have continued to rise.
C — COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Ground zero of the Napster war. So fanatical are the kids — three quarters of whom use the service — that some universities have cut off access.
D — DURST, FRED
Limp Bizkit frontman who’s so pro-Napster he had the service sponsor a free summer tour. Which isn’t making him friends in the rock community: ”Long term,” says ArtistDirect CEO Marc Geiger, ”there won’t be an industry and Fred won’t have a band.” Giving their song ”I’m Broke” a whole new meaning.
F — FANNING, SHAWN
The 19-year-old Northeastern U. dropout who created Napster, making him the most loved and hated teen this side of your average Hanson.
G — GNUTELLA
A tasty hazelnut chocolate treat — oh, that’s without the G. This one’s a Napster-like service that foes say is even more dangerous because of its decentralized nature (no CEO, no offices, nothing). As AAP director Noah Stone laments, ”You can’t sue them.” Other Napster substitutes include Spinfrenzy, Audiogalaxy, CuteMX, and iMesh, all of which saw a surge in visitors on the eve of the near shutdown.
L — LOVE, COURTNEY
Opinion-filled pro-Napster rocker. Witness this anti-exec rant on her website, holemusic.com: ”Piracy is the act of stealing an artist’s work without any intention of paying for it. I’m not talking about Napster-style software. I’m talking about major-label recording contracts.”