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AT LARGE: Napster redux

AT LARGE: Napster redux

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Has anyone noticed that Napster's kind of lame lately? I was never that much of a fan before all the lawsuits started, but became interested in it when it was all over the news. I'm probably not alone in that, which is ironic: if we'd all just ignored it, the record companies might not have had such a strong case to shut it down.

At the conclusion (if that's what it was) of the legal wrangling over Napster, the company promised to "upgrade" its technology to stop people exchanging copyrighted materials. It promised this as if it were not akin to promising a device that could tell the difference between butter and "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" merely by looking at it. Stopping people from creating MP3 files out of copyrighted CDs and exchanging them willy-nilly would be a damn neat bit of programming, and I'd have congratulated anyone who managed to do it.

Instead, Napster released a new version of its client software that blocked files with names that were kind of similar to the names of copyrighted files. Not only would it stop anything by "Metallica", for instance, it would also block "Metalicca", "Mattelica" and most other variations upon the names of artists protective of their creative rights (money). This, of course, would not have worked because the user community (which has the uncanny ability to communicate without using Napster) would merely have developed a code. "Metallica", for example, could become "Nfubmmjdb" if you simple shift the letters one place along in the alphabet. And Napster's software would have presumed this was some new band unprotected by copyright.

All of this is moot, of course, because Napster's new client software didn't work at all. Wouldn't connect, wouldn't find anything, crashed if you breathed wrong. Promising to create a miraculous bit of software and instead destabilising hundreds of thousands of computers is not a good way for young software developers to enhance their CVs.

And when it introduced its new, non-working replica of actual software, it also disabled all the older, working, stable software it had ever distributed. As if that wasn't enough, within a couple of days of releasing the dud stuff it shut down the site altogether, promising to relaunch when it had finished improving its service.

The record industry sued Napster, not really to shut it down, but to harness it. Now, Napster is effectively dead, and its users have found other free, copyright-oblivious services too numerous for anyone to sue, harness or shut down.

Hope they're happy.

Matthew JC. Powell did keep one illegal MP3 off Napster. Berate him on mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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