Who knew that when 19-year-old Shawn Fanning came up with the idea for Napster in 1998, he was also initiating a dramatic battle between music fans and the music industry?
Since Napster’s explosion in 1999, online file sharing has been the fastest-growing technological trend in the music world. Debates have sparked between those who support the incredible technology of MP3 downloads and those who argue that it is a form of theft doubling as a detriment to the music industry.
These arguments are equally credible. The problem is their opposition to one another.
The Recording Industry Association of America has recently filed lawsuits against more than 200 individuals accused of file-sharing, with more planned in the coming weeks.
While the accusation of stealing is a legitimate argument, so is the one in favor: music to the masses. People who want access to just one or two songs by an artist they are disinterested in don’t have to buy the entire disc. Internet downloading is an obvious preference for proud owners of top-of-the-line MP3 players such as Apple’s iPod.
These two warring worlds need to meet somewhere in the middle. The recording industry is so outraged by their losses that they appear to be out for revenge; its resources are spent filing lawsuits and trying to contain the now hundreds of Napster spawns instead of tapping into the plausible success of a downloading market.
The record industry should attempt to embrace the popularity of MP3 downloading. Apple has taken such a hint in creating iTunes, a simple, inexpensive way to buy one song at a time. For 99 cents apiece, music fans can choose from over 200,000 quality songs to put on their iPods, or they can purchase an entire album for as little as $10.
By opposing MP3 downloads, record companies are wasting time and energy. While leading record company Universal has begun lowering its CD prices at wholesale, there is no guarantee that retailers will honor the requests for lower market prices. Furthermore, no other major label has followed Universal’s lead. Even if record companies made such a move, it would be ridiculous for them as companies so concerned with making money, to overlook people’s obvious preference for downloading.
Change is always a given, especially when it comes to computers and electronics, which seem to open new technological doors daily. Combating file sharing is a frivolous expenditure of resources; record companies should work with this new technology rather than against it.
The trouble with iTunes in the United States is that it currently stands alone. If record companies were willing to work with the concept of making downloadable music available to the public, there would be a much more appealing selection to consumers and hence a greater commercial market that would clearly be beneficial to all involved.
If record companies are willing to band together and combine resources to create a positive response, they will no doubt receive positive feedback from consumers. And if they think that by suing some they are stopping this technology in its tracks, they are sadly mistaken. What they have not yet realized is the unstoppable power of change and the potential success of plugging into new technology that has already proven so popular.
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