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Where Commerce, Culture and the First Amendment Collide - The Napster Case
Conclusion: The Future of Peer-to-Peer File Sharing

The RIAA argues that Napster stands in the way of a legitimate digital music market developing on the Internet because as long as customers can get songs for free, they won't buy them from other companies on the same network: "Napster and other file trading services are setting standards and expectations from consumers that labels and artists can't reasonably meet. [...] The value of a copyright must prevail whether in the physical or digital realm." [RIAA00] David Boies counters that every time a new medium of content distribution - such as cable television or the VCR - was introduced, copyright owners first tried to stop it (unsuccessfully), only to discover later that it enriched them profoundly because of the increased demand for content.

A revolution in the way music is distributed is certainly underway - with the new digital channels, distribution is no longer limited to the constraints of physical media, forcing consumers to buy a CD with twelve songs by the same artist just because they like one track. Napster and related services made new, more consumer-friendly modes of distribution available, and the RIAA acknowledges that the best defense against those services may indeed be a good offense: If the industry offers convenient access to high-quality music and provides added value with it, consumers will probably favor the legitimate sites over search engines in the gray area.

At the same time, looking at the next generation of peer-to-peer file sharing software, Napster might ultimately be the lesser of two evils: Decentralized services like Gnutella or Freenet do not rely on a single database, but use a distributed index for which no one person or entity is really responsible - making them almost impossible to shut down. Boies points out that a centralized index like Napster has the potential to protect copyright holders rights more efficiently than an unmanaged and therefore uncontrollable system.

The Napster case is not only about copyright issues in the music industry. With bandwidth ever increasing, the same revolutions and paradigm shifts will occur in almost every sector of digital content distribution - be it photos, books, software or movies. The Napster case sets a precedent for laws, business models and the way we will use information in the future.

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