Mad about Napster ban

Tom Hoops is the president of Technology Associates Inc. in Reno.

“I think I’ll go down to Radio Shack and buy one of those Napster things,” David Letterman said recently, referring to tape recorders and VCRs. “They’ve got a Napster thing for television, too.”

The thing that really tweaks my trumpet about the persecution of Napster, an online song-swapping service, is the gray line. By allowing VCRs and tape recording devices to exist, it’s seems OK to tape anything and replay it and swap it—because there will never be any enforcement at this level. But if it becomes too convenient and easy, well, I guess it’s time to get a judge involved.

Last week, Napster agreed to block access to 1 million copywrited song files. It was a give-in or shut-down decision.

Napster doesn’t really do anything for us that we haven’t already had the ability to do for the last 20 years or more. It just does it better and faster. And, if you’ve studied this at all, you’ll know that Napster doesn’t break copyright laws. It does facilitate users in breaking copyright laws—if used on copywritten material.

But that just makes it harder to draw the line. A car, for example, will facilitate its driver in breaking the law by easily allowing the user to speed if he desires. Yet, you don’t see states and the federal government going after car makers to force them to stop making cars which can speed.

Oh, but wait a minute … you do see them going after gun makers. Guns can facilitate breaking the law for some people. So let’s force them to make the guns “less deadly.” Ahem. Who decides what is “less deadly"? A single-shot firearm is just as capable of killing someone as a multi-shot one.

So what do cars and guns have to do with Napster? Technology has changed the ease and quality for which people can swap copywritten material. Technology, not Napster, has made this possible. Napster is feared by the corrupt industries that are too cowardly to embrace new technology and too backward to innovatively capitalize on it. There are many alternatives to Napster, some of which, arguably, are unstoppable.

So who is deciding that Napster is the criminal—and not the Napster users? It’s the same people who decided that many drugs must be controlled, that it’s illegal to say the word “bomb” on an airplane and that certain guns are too dangerous. It’s the people we grant authority to protect us, because, today in America, we would rather trade our freedom for security. It’s our legislators, judges, councils, agencies, police and almost everyone else in the non-producing sector of our economy. Every time there is a new law, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a whole sector of our society becomes instantly converted from citizens to criminals.

So Napster is the head of the whore, rolling in the courtyard, to remind us that there will be no more whores walking in the courtyard—they are only allowed in the White House and other places equipped to safely handle such things.