My research paper for my Issues in New Media graduate class was titled “The Longstanding Implications of Napster and Peer-to-Peer File Sharing on the Music Industry & the Internet.” What I attempted to accomplish with my paper was to understand the influence the file-sharing program Napster had on the music industry, but also on the Internet, as a whole.
Many only know Napster as a program back in the late 1990s-early 2000s in which millions of people shared millions of songs (FOR FREE), and the program was then sued by the RIAA and big-name artists (poster-child Lars Ulrich of Metallica), and eventually Napster was shut down. Napster resurfaced a couple of years later as a paid program, but things were never quite the same. What people don’t understand, is that Napster sparked the idea that consumers no longer had to go purchase their music (or movies, or books) at retail stores anymore, and (in many cases) consumers could find ways in which they didn’t have to actually PAY for any of these things. NOTE: it is still technically illegal for people to download music, movies or other copyrighted entertainment without paying for it.
But the idea of not having to have a tangible product, that all of these forms of entertainment could be completely digital, was revolutionary. This lead to the development of iTunes as a paid service in which people can download songs, a la cart, for $0.99. It also lead to subscription-based, streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify. Napster even paved the way for sites like YouTube and Vimeo to stream copyrighted works without being sued into bankruptcy (mainly because the entertainment industry realized they had to compromise and embrace the freedom of the Internet, not just sue the pants off everyone).
My paper also discusses the fact that the lawsuits against Napster brought the idea of “Who holds the power of copyright?” This lead many to think that copyright law, as it stands, gave too much power to publishers and lawyers, and not enough power to the actual artists who created the works, and so, Creative Commons was born.
I didn’t mention this in my paper, but it may be worth noting, but some researchers believe Napster was responsible for people switching to high-speed Internet. I suppose this is because it could take hours upon hours to download music and videos via dial-up connection (I know this from experience. High-speed Internet was like a God-send).
I found that there was not enough direct evidence to blame Napster or P2P sharing for the nose-dive in album sales over the last decade, but I do believe it had a slight influence, mainly for the reasons I mentioned above. But, have no fear, in January of 2012, SoundScan reported that album sales were UP for the first time since 2004. I guess the dinosaurs won’t die, just yet.
I just wish I would have had more time to develop my research, because I would be interested to see how many people still choose to download music illegally, even with the many legal options. I would also compare this with studies from back in the Napster-era. I could have done this through an online survey, but I simply didn’t have the time.
Issues in New Media was a very interesting (and intense) course. Four weeks is a very short time-frame to discuss the many topics we covered. To be fair, even an entire semester might not be long enough to discuss all of these topics pertaining to the Internet. The Internet, social networks, Google, and all things new media are always growing and changing. Even articles from 2010 seemed ancient at times. But that’s what makes new media so thrilling to study, you will never have a dull moment. The “history” of the Internet is ongoing, and there are no set guidelines for how one works in new media. The discussions we had in class were never dull or boring, and everyone seemed genuinely interested in every topic. If this class would have been a semester long, I would have taken it any way.
And, we’ll go ahead and end the semester with a note from Lars Ulrich: