Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Eric Hellman <>
Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 21:29:48 +0100

Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2000 8:45 PM
Subject: Napster and DOI

Napster: the ultimate digital library
Publishers of digital content should be interested in Napster.

For those of you who don't follow the music industry, a quick
description of Napster is in order. Napster is a mechanism for the
distributed distribution of digital music that works by providing a
centralized database of hyperlinks. College students have latched
onto Napster as an easy way to share the music that they purchase or
otherwise acquire with others. Napster turns a user's computer into a
web server that delivers MP3 files to other users. The popularity of
Napster has flooded the IP networks of a number of colleges, forcing
them to ban the use of Napster.

Although a number of lawsuits have been filed trying to shut down
Napster because of its potential for copyright abuse, the music
industry's war against Napster is one they have already lost, even if
they win numerous legal battles. The genie is out of the bottle. New,
unsigned bands are looking to Napster as a friendly, grassroots
distribution mechanism in the tradition of the Grateful Dead's policy
of encouraging the private taping of concerts. Students are using
Napster the way previous generations used underground radio stations.
The bottom line is that the music conglomerates have completely lost
control of the next generation of their business. The fact that
industry people still argue whether safeguards in SDMI are strong
enough underscores the essential disconnect between the industry and
their youngest customers.

The music industry has many parallels with the books and serials
industries; in fact, there are very strong parallels between Napster
and the recent efforts to develop interoperable archives for
technical articles.

Let's look at some of the similarities and differences:

1. Both are distributed content distribution schemes.
2. Both are catalyzed by uniform identifier systems.
3. Both are driven by grassroots rather than by incumbent industries.
4. The supply of content exceeds the demand.

1. Rock Stars get megabucks from the music companies. Nobel winners
are not significantly compensated by publishers.
2. Music is youth-driven; print is not.
3. Many Napster-enabled activities are clearly illegal. e-print
archives are clearly legal.
4. Napster has no stored content, whereas archives have storage as
part of their mission.

It is interesting to note that DOI, which is being pushed by the STM
publishing industry as a linking mechanism, will make the task of
Napsterizing STM articles much easier.

For the print publishing industry, the key to avoiding the fate of
the music industry is to recognize early on which initiatives are
likely to be conducive to orderly change in their industry, and to
realize that the sort of control over distribution which existed in
the past is a thing of the past. For example, the music industry has
belatedly realized that RealAudio is a better alternative than
Napster. In a similar situation, the Biomedical publishing community
has raised a particular stink about PubMed Central, which will seem
awfully benign in the face of the more Napsteresque publishing
systems which are sure to arise.

If you think this is a fantasy, read

Eric Hellman
Openly Informatics, Inc. 21st Century Information Infrastructure
LinkBaton: Your Shortcuts to Information
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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