As Napster Goes Vanilla, Aimster Faces Rocky Road

Those who have faithfully followed the 21st-century battle that is Napster vs. the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) now know one critical fact. Napster is going mainstream and blending in, vanilla-like, with corporate America.

One might wonder what happened to Napster’s revolutionary spirit. Its renegade founder. Its cutting-edge concept. But whether you are wondering about those things or not, the plain truth is that Napster will soon go legit by licensing music from a new entity called MusicNet, which is owned by three recording industry leaders: EMI Group, BMG and Warner Music.

What can we learn from this outcome?

First, by closing the doors on Napster’s defiant path, the American judicial system has sent a powerful message that e-commerce must operate within existing laws, specifically copyright laws.

Second, e-commerce accomplishes nothing by damaging or eliminating an existing, successful industry, such as the record company business. Traditional businesses and new entities have to find a way to co-exist and compete within the confines of the free-enterprise system.

Keeping Watch

But while the massive lawsuits raged against Napster, few kept a close eye on the developments of Aimster, a virtual clone of Napster that is built on similar technology. Aimster has everything to lose or gain when it comes to the ultimate fate of its predecessor.

So, with Napster approaching agreement and/or compromise with the RIAA and record companies, should Aimster assume that traditional commerce reigns supreme, at the expense of upstarts?

Or should Aimster assume that new technology forced the hand of big business, compelling the recording industry to step down from its comfortable pedestal and make a peace treaty with the newcomers?

Gray Areas

The truth lies somewhere in between those two extremes. Even though the industry stalwarts and the upstarts both had strong weapons to use, the result looks like a compromise — and it is not the first time such a compromise has been brokered.

We’ve become so accustomed to dividing the world into two camps — New Economy and Old Economy — that we often forget that the civil wars between business past and business future do often find a new middle ground.

Some alterations in the way we do business have been easily assimilated. On the most basic level, companies have for years reduced their costs by relying more and more on electronics and computers.

And when you think about it, how can anyone expect to maintain the status quo of transactional commerce, when technology has leapfrogged past traditional business?

New Challenges

Now, just when the record industry is starting to feel secure about the demise of free music file-sharing on Napster, Aimster’s emergence is an ominous reminder that file-sharing technology is here to stay. Neutralizing one perceived threat does not mean the underlying problem has been solved.

The battle lines are again being drawn. Aimster’s critics are crying foul, claiming the company is dj vu all over again — and in the worst way. Supporters argue that Aimster is not breaking any laws by enabling the sharing of files. Moreover, Aimster argues that to monitor users’ file swaps would be an invasion of the users’ privacy, since its service includes encrypted transmissions.

The investment community is lining up within earshot of Aimster, if not exactly behind it, carefully gauging the economic potential — and liability — of the service.

Business as Usual?

The Napster saga proved that progress often comes with a price tag for all sides to pay. To survive, the recording industry has had to find a way to incorporate file-sharing technology into its all-too-comfortable universe. And Napster has had to find a way to play by the rules. MusicNet is a step in that direction.

From now on, the Napsters and Aimsters of the world (and there are likely to be many more) should understand that they are obligated to conduct themselves responsibly and with due respect to traditional business. File-sharing enablers are not likely to circumvent — or fly beneath the radar screen of — copyright laws that date back to the 18th century, nor should they try.

What we’re seeing is a new playing field. The teams need to learn how to play fair and check their moral posturing before things race out of control again.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • The RIAA need to go after the big money makers not us small fry – This is just like the

    beginning days of the cassette. The recording artists and recording companies were

    all freaked out becasue we were all copying music on to cassettes in the late ’70s

    well de ja vu – here we are but with new technology and many more “friends” to share

    our music with.

    Back then, they upped the price of a cassette and gave a precentage to the music industry

    – well – DAH – do the same here – go to the ISPs or the computer manufacturers and

    get your money – don’t try and get it from me or stop me from sharing files. THEY


    GET WITH THE 21st. Century!




    You never stopped anyone from copying mucic on to cassettes then, you’ll not stop anyone

    from sharing their music here – IT IS NOT THE RIAA’s right to do that!

    And to you, Metallica – I will never ever, as long as I live – spend one more penny on your music or anything you

    have to sell. You bunch of greedy filthy rich CRY BABIES!

  • I have to disagree with the gist of this article. What the Napster case has shown me is simply that with an influx of venture capital Napster, rather than continuing to represent a challenge to big business, became big business itself and has to tow the line. Of course the courts dictated it this time, but the file-sharing which was brought into mainstream awareness by Napster has created a large group of file-sharers who have awakened to the abuses and arrogance of an industry that has fallen behind the times and will be revolutionized. I’ve never even heard of Aimster, but AM aware of at least three other services, at least one of which is better and quicker than Napster ever was. Napster is dead in terms of what it once was. Napster’s people are lying when they say that they haven’t lost many users. File-sharing is here to stay and the record industry is still going to lose revenue to file-sharers. In my opinion, their only chance of curbing the problem is to price themselves competitively enough so that downloading an entire album for free isn’t infinitely faster and considerably cheaper than acquiring it from the record industry.

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