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Napster: The end is near

By Scot Petersen, eWEEK

Yes, the jig is up; the end is near for Napster. A federal appeals court on Monday handed down a decision on the music-sharing service that will eventually lead to, at best, a completely revamped Napster that bears little resemblance to the current model, or, at worst, the shutdown of the service along with millions of dollars in copyright violations penalties.

The transformation won't happen overnight, so you can still do some downloading, for now. The original district court that ruled in favor of the record industry must issue a new injunction that specifically states what music can and cannot be on Napster's service, and how that will be accomplished. Napster officials believe that will force them to shut down completely, before its grand plan of a pay service launches this summer.

My only hope is that Napster is allowed to evolve toward that end, because any decision to shut down or cause Napster to go out of business would be a disservice to the technology, the users who have supported it and the promise of a new business model built around peer-to-peer, which wasn't even in our vocabulary 18 months ago.

I can speak for millions of music lovers who cannot and will not pay full retail in a music store again (although the Columbia House 12 free CDs is still a terrific deal). A pay service ($5 per month has been bandied about) will allow Napster to pay royalties as well as any penalties it will be liable for, and I would be willing to pay.

Few avenues left?

But here's the real problem: In the wake of this weekend's downloading spree--when some 250 million songs were downloaded--will there be anything left to pay for once a pay service comes around? In addition, the songs may be free, but when you factor in the cost of enough hard drive space, a CD burner, discs and the time to sort the songs and record them, there is a lot of overhead to the whole Napster business, so much so that many users may not want to fork out extra money just for the privilege.

They could turn to other services, but the Gnutellas and other Napster clones out there couldn't handle the demand Napster can, nor will users find them as easy to use as Napster.

Therefore, it may end up that, short of a circle of friends sharing their own CDs and copying them, music fans will have few avenues left for sharing music. They may actually have to resort to the extortion committed daily by record labels and the mainstream brick and mortar music chains.

If this is the case, my hope is that, like George W. Bush, this whole Napster business has sent a strong message to the recording industry that it needs to reconcile with its constituents over things like pricing.

My fear, unfortunately, is that, like Dubya, the recording industry won't give a damn.

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