|THE SMITH CENTER||for Private Enterprise Studies|
by Kelly Meehan, Lowell High School, San Francisco
3rd Place Essay Contest Winner, June 2001
As the Internet came into existence, our country's copyright laws were challenged. With the creation of websites such as Napster, it seemed virtually impossible to prohibit users from downloading copyrighted music off the Internet. Thus, a valid social question was raised; does Napster merely "share" music or does it steal from artists? Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that Napster infringes on the intellectual property rights of musicians as defined by Article 1 in the US Constitution which states that "The Congress shall have Power... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries..."~ Napster does in fact steal potential royalties from artists, potential record sale profits, and artist's ability to market themselves in today's economy.
Supporters of Napster argue that the website acts just like a radio station, and essentially brings music to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford sky rocket CD prices. While it may be true that both the radio and Napster give people access to music, they drastically differ in the ways they carry out this task. When radio stations play an artist's published song, they have to pay a small royalty which can add up to a nice sum for an artist2. Napster on the other hand, allows fans to download songs and listen to them whenever and as often as they want. Meanwhile, the artist never sees a cent in compensation. What's more is that most of the users of Napster are financially able to buy a CD considering that they own a computer and have the high speed Internet access needed to use the website. Napster is definitely "sharing" stuff. Unfortunately it's not theirs to share.
Other supporters of Napster argue that the website isn't ripping off artists, but in fact is helping record sales. The truth of the matter is that while overall music sales in the country had risen by 16% earlier this year, the "sales around those college campuses where Napster is popular was down by 4%."3 The users of Napster obviously aren't buying music in stores and aren't buying it online where "music sales account for less than 3% of all the music sales in the U.S."4 Once again, artists are hurt because they don't receive the royalties that they deserve. Most artists depend on "mechanical royalties" which pay artists about $.50-$1.20 per CD sold. Napster, now a 40 million dollar financed operation5, steals precious record sale profits from artists for its own motives.
Napster's biggest claim is that it helps small, independent artists compete in the music industry by exposing them. In reality, the users of Napster know what songs they want, and go to the website to download the already known and popular artists. Napster was even so audacious as to post on its web site that one of its greatest benefits was that users wouldn't have to "wade through pages of unknown artists to get to what they really want."6 While struggling independent artists may be accessible to people by Napster, they may not be generating an audience there. In addition, because of Napster, artists have no control over where their songs appear on the Internet. Unfortunately, because of this lack of control artists "lose the most powerful means of drawing people to their website."7 Artists depend greatly on drawing fans to their website so that they can advertise their records and tours. By taking away this power, Napster hinders artist's ability to promote themselves.
Napster has portrayed itself as the little guy fighting big business for too long. Napster today has millions of dollars invested into it, and has more funding than many independent labels. It has been taking advantage and immorally manipulating artists during this revolution of Internet technology. The notion that music should be free is absolutely absurd. We pay to read magazines, and to watch movies, so how is music any different? Artists spend time creating just as people in any other profession do. Its time they be treated with the same respect as everyone else. By depriving artists of their intellectual property rights, they are robbing artists of their hard work.
1 www.stopnapster.com/biglie.hunl pg 2.
2 www.crackersoul.com/soundoff/napster.html pg 3.
3 www.stopuapster.comJtalkback.html pg 3.
4 www.stopnapster.com/talkback.html pg 2.
5 www.crackersoul.com/soundoff/napster.html pg 4.
6 www.stopuapster.com/talkback.hhul pg 1.
7 www.crackersoul.corn/soundoff/napster.html pg 4.