IN THE NEWS #440 - Napster

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Napster is a music-sharing service on the Internet. People who visit the Web site praise it as a way to get free music. Napster says it has twenty-million users. But a judge in San Francisco, California, says Napster is a terrible creation. Last week she ordered Napster to remove all material belonging to major recording companies until a trial could be held. Thousands of users protested the judge's order. Napster employees called it a death sentence.

Then, last Friday, an appeals court blocked the order just before it was to go into effect. That meant Napster could continue to operate, at least temporarily.

The recording industry and musicians brought the legal action against Napster. They say the company violates copyright laws which protect their right to sell their materials and profit from them. People using Napster do not have to buy recordings to listen to music. Yet Napster says this helps -- not hurts -- recording sales. It says people are more likely to buy songs from music stores if they like what they hear online.

A digital recording technology called M-P-Three makes the music files easier to send over the Internet. People listen on their computer speakers or using a small M-P-Three player.

Napster began in September of Nineteen-Ninety-Nine. It was started by a nineteen-year-old named Shawn Fanning. His company is based in San Mateo, California. It does not keep music on its computers. Instead, it records the songs that its users have on their computers. Then it connects one user to another. So, the company argues, people share from one another -- not from Napster. Mr. Fanning says this makes it legal.

But the Recording Industry Association of America disagrees. It says Napster violates intellectual property rights. The rock group Metallica also has brought a case against Napster. And, Metallica has taken legal action against some universities where students use the system. Sales at music stores generally have been increasing. But, music industry lawyers say music sales near universities have fallen.

The recording industry is trying to develop its own services on the World Wide Web. Major companies are starting to offer music that can be downloaded through the Internet. But these systems charge for the service.

Napster is not the only free music-sharing service on the Internet. Companies with names like Freenet and Gnutella (new-TELL-uh) were created in ways that make it harder for music industry lawyers to stop them. Also, music-sharing systems are operating overseas, away from United States laws.

Napster may find it hard to survive a trial. But the evidence suggests that music on the Internet is here to stay.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Shep O'Neal.

Voice of America Special English