The Napster Crisis in a Nutshell

by Colin Stokes

Napster, the so-called scourge of the music industry. Why do people make such a fuss over it? Why did it even become a reality, instead of staying a mere concept in the mind of Shawn Fanning?

The answer is wrapped up in the very essence of human nature, and the ten important points that apply to the situation.

Before Napster came along, piracy existed. A very long time before Napster, in fact. Yes, people, Napster is not a shocking new development; it is merely a brief side note in the history of society. Napster is just another way of satisfying the needs of Fundamental Truth #1: People Are Greedy. It is human nature to get something for free if it is possible, rather than paying for it. If you don't follow this line of reasoning, consider the following Coke analogy. Would you rather be handed a 12-ounce bottle of soda, ice-cold, or would you rather go to the vending machine and spend a dollar to get the exact same quality of item? The choice is obvious. No one wants to pay for something that is free.

This tendency of human nature leads to Fundamental Truth #2: People Are Lazy. If no incentive, preferably monetary, is offered for stopping acts of theft, most non-idealists won't see any point in taking action against the said acts. The idealists are good, because they keep society moving forward, but there are not enough of them to effect real change on a national scale. Think on this idea for a bit: would you work a difficult, thankless job for no money, or no additional money, even if someone said it was the right thing to do? What if you could never finish the job, and you knew it? Let's face it, piracy is essentially unstoppable in today's society. If one hackers' nest is cleaned out, a dozen or so will immediately take its place.

Fundamental Truth #3: Clever People Understand #2. Eventually, as it has always happened, the clever people will come to the point where they can say, "I will do something illegal, and you will not stop me, because you are either lazy or ignorant." This line of thought is the basis for theft, embezzlement, software piracy, and a bevy of other illegal activities. Piracy has become an effortless way to free data (software, music, or otherwise) with essentially no consequences, because of clever people who design ways to pirate for use by the greedy people of Fundamental Truth #1.

Thus, the foundations are perfectly laid for the emergence of Napster.

As in so many cases, the invention of Napster started as a clever idea that was in no way aimed at bringing down "the system" that so many morons rant about, not understanding that the system about which they complain is the system that allows them freedom to complain. Point 4 concerns The Foundations of Napster: Innocent Technology Is Twisted. Most illegal activities are eventually accomplished through legal techniques or software. Napster started as a way to trade songs between friends. It was not originally conceived as a way to destroy the artists who provide songs by stealing money from them; the corporations do that anyway. (See Point 6 below for more.) The road to piracy is paved with good inventions. For that matter, the road to anything negative is paved with good inventions. Weapons technology is the aim of a good deal of scientific research. It's a sad commentary on today's society, but it's true. I predict that if the human race ever gets off the earth, the nations will start fighting over the land on Mars or whatever planet is available, using their space technology to kill each other as fast as possible.

But anyway, Point 5 covers The Implications of Napster: Society, Lacking A Strong Sense Of Ethics, Is Twisted. Apparently, the clients of Napster see nothing wrong with free music trade, since after all, about 1.3 million other people are doing it. Not all at one time, of course. The real figure is probably closer to 2.5 million, but I haven't researched that. Hey, if everyone else is doing it, it must be the right thing to do! Maybe the Nazi soldiers comforted themselves with the thought that "hey, my fellow soldiers are doing it, so I'll follow orders too." An interesting commentary on human nature: people follow the crowd so they don't stick out, even if it means going over the cliff with everyone else, because most people don't like being different. Some people just follow trends and fads as a lifestyle: anything newer is therefore automatically better. This is a stupid way to think. Why do we have custom and tradition, or the "old order" as some call it? Because it works, of course.

Popular society enjoys Napster. For a time, it seems like the coolest thing around (because it's new, I suppose). But then, disaster strikes.

Napster is eventually discovered by the law enforcement agencies, the big corporations, and the whiny rich music groups. One wants justice and legality; the other two want more money than they already have.

Since people are lazy, this wouldn't seem to be much of a problem, but there is one force that overcomes laziness immediately: greed, which is not limited to individuals (obviously). Point 6 explains The Motivation For Action: Corporations Are Greedy, just like the rest of society. The choice is between making money or not making money. Corporations always want more: more customers, more business, more money. Consider the previous example of the Coke, from a corporation's point of view. Problem: with people handing out Cokes, your vending machines get no revenue. Solution: make it illegal to hand out Cokes, and people will flock to the machines. Moral: turn a profit at all costs, using whatever methods are available. Important News Flash for Dummies: corporations don't shaft customers for the heck of it. They just want to make money. Profit is the lifeblood of any company: no profit, no money, investors pull out, company crashes and burns. This may not seem very comforting, but shafting customers is not malicious, merely good business practice. Idealistic companies, who want to serve the customer, crash and burn. Idealists never make it very far in the business world; they're easy prey for the larger, more ruthless ones. Cutthroat competition, dirty tricks, and slimy legal maneuvers; it's how business gets done! Not just in America, either, but in the business world in every country, at every level of enterprise.

Obviously, people in a "clean" society don't like to hear about the cutthroat competition, dirty tricks, and slimy legal maneuvers that occur. As a result, the acting corporations must have The Justification For Action: Idealists Provide Good Cover, which happens to be Point 7. Idealists advance society, but they also act as enablers for a lot of underground business. The principle is similar to that behind the Islamic Jihad. The corporations do things "in the best interests of their artists" while their real motivation is, of course, Point 6 (see above). A short note on Understanding Business Practices: If you need to do something that looks bad in public, the best solution involves finding a good rationalization for the actions and having high-profile people do the rationalizing for you while you do the dirty work. Once again, it's how business everywhere gets done. This way, corporations achieve the end result and yet keep the spotless white gloves of culture, though the fingernails underneath might be stained with dirt and blood. Figuratively, of course.

What will happen to Napster? What does the future hold?

I can't say for sure, but I can make some pretty darn good guesses, human nature and business practices being what they are.

Point 8 concerns The Primary Result: Corporations Get Money. Considering the power that big corporations have, and the intelligence and cleverness of their lawyers, they are bound to get money somehow. They will keep at it until they have milked every bit of money from the situation. Why? Point 6, of course. Imagine a gold mine. Stopping after getting a handful of gold and saying, "Okay, I don't need this mine any more. I'll move on to another" is not a profitable idea. If there is money to be had, rest assured that the corporations will find a way to get as much as possible.

Next is Point 9, The Secondary Result: Artists Continue Complaining. Why not? After all, it's not likely that they will get a great deal, if any at all, of the proposed settlement, thanks to Point 6. Without satisfaction, there is no reason for these musicians to stop whining about injustice, despite the fact that they have plenty of money anyway. The rich bands complain about Napster because they want more money. The poor bands appreciate Napster because of the free publicity they receive. A great many of the songs on Napster are either not available in the United States or not released on CD, like new cuts or original versions that just haven't been published for whatever reason.

Last of all, Point 10 deals with The Final and Probably Inevitable Result: Piracy Continues. Idealists, in this case, are morons. You think you could actually stop this from happening? What a joke! As long as the human instinct of greed remains unrepressed, piracy will continue. Even if Napster is totally shut down, which I really doubt, there are at least three other services that I know of that do essentially the same thing, and probably a good twenty to thirty other major ones of which I have no knowledge. Any time any of these are shut down, support for "the cause" merely grows and spawns new offspring.

Law enforcement needs to start caring about their jobs and assignments, programmers need to consider the implications of their inventions, and citizens need to understand that stealing, or "free trade" if you prefer, is morally and ethically wrong.

Trust me on this: there is no way to stop the actions of these people, except possibly for altering the natural bent of the human mind.

And that, people, is not an easy thing to do.