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Napster debate hits area musicians, fans

As it has for so many industries, the Internet has turned the music industry on its proverbial ear, smashing barriers of distance, cost, distribution and marketing -- and, the recording industry says, making piracy a worldwide epidemic.

As it has for so many industries, the Internet has turned the music industry on its proverbial ear, smashing barriers of distance, cost, distribution and marketing -- and, the recording industry says, making piracy a worldwide epidemic.
The fight has Northland musicians and fans talking.
The controversy started with the MP3 file format. Based on an existing media format, MP3 allowed music to be copied from a compact disc into a compressed computer file. The relatively small size and high quality of this format, combined with the decentralized Internet, where computer users can share files quickly and easily, made overnight buzz. Pirated music soon supplanted pornography as the most popular topic at major search engines.
And then came Napster, a service that helps match up music fans with music files, some licensed and some not.
Metallica and some other artists, incensed at seeing allegedly illegal copies of their copyrighted works being traded free online, sued, backed by the recording industry.
Although a judge's injunction to close down the service was stayed late last month until an appeal is completed, it may be a temporary reprieve. In a July 28 press release, Napster founder Shawn Fanning said, "I am happy and grateful that we do not have to turn away our 20 million users and that we can continue to help artists. We'll keep working and hoping for the best."
But not all artists are so convinced Napster is a help, and it is not just big-name bands like Metallica who object. Duluth musician Max Dakota, whose band Max Dakota and Modern Life recently released a CD called "True to My Aim" that's sold online, is among the dissenters.
"I have mixed emotions about it," he said during a Wednesday phone interview. "It's a situation where certainly standard copyright laws should apply, but how do you get around the whole downloading of it."
While Dakota said he remembers the days of dubbing vinyl albums -- say the new Bob Seeger or Pink Floyd -- the Internet is a new situation.
"(There) seems to be a little bit more danger in this, because this is very, very worldwide," he said, noting also that the quality of MP3 files approaches that of CDs.
On the other side of the fence sit some music fans. Jamie Steinberg, a senior at St. Scholastica who calls himself an average music fan, has been into MP3s for some time.
He found Napster about six months ago, and he said the service is a big help. While there were many songs he couldn't find through other searches, that changed with Napster.
"Pretty much I could find anything I wanted to on that," he said during a phone interview.
Steinberg's use is straightforward: when he learns of a new song, he downloads the song off the Internet, and when he has collected 15 or 20 of them, he uses the college's CD burner to create a compact disc with them, he said.
When asked about the suit against Napster, Steinberg said he'd heard about it. "Obviously, I'm against it, just because I wouldn't want to see Napster shut down," he said, although he added that he sees "both points."
One of the arguments Napster supporters make is that the service builds a name for bands. Steinberg said it's true in his case.
"I'm sure Napster has made quite a few bands that weren't so popular into very popular bands," he said, saying he'd found "numerous artists I've never even heard of."
However, when asked how many of their CDs he had purchased, Steinberg hesitated, finally answering that he'd bought one, three months ago.
Dakota said mid-career bands might build name recognition over the Internet. "For someone who's trying to build a career, you'd probably want as many people to be accessing what you have as possible," he said.
"There's nothing like word-of-mouth, and the more mouths you can get, the better," he added of the worldwide reach of the Internet.
However, he made it clear he wasn't talking about unauthorized copyrighted material going over the Internet.
"If you're giving the companies the permission to ... spread your material essentially, that's a whole different story," he said.
In fact, several companies, including MP3.com, do that for at least part of their service. Spin Records ( http://www.spinrecords.com ) does exactly that for Dakota's band, he said, where a sample song is available for download and the rest can be purchased, either through the entire CD or individually. Dakota said the terms of the agreement were better than some "brick-and-mortar" record company deals.
So while the music industry may be facing radical change, Dakota believes it will ultimately be a boon for musicians. He said Napster and similar services are not going away.
"There are going to be a lot of issues to look at from a legal standpoint, and it's not going away, so why not just work with the artists involved and figure out something that does compensate the downloading of the material?" he said.
It remains to be seen what that new face of music will look like.

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