Open Letter to Napster


Today I read how Napster shamelessly acquiesced to pressure brought on it by Metallica’s lawyers. According to the news article, you have agreed to block people who share Metallica music files, totaling over 300,000 loyal Napster users. I am stunned that you have allowed Metallica and Howard King to do this – it certainly signals the demise of your software. I hope you realize, of course, that this opens the door for others to demand the same thing. You will be spending the next few months obliging – and dare I say – kissing the asses of recording industry executives and their legal pit bull, the RIAA. Shall I suggest you stock up on aspirins and Alka-Seltzer? You’re going to need them.

In fact, you best stock up on the aforementioned immediately because chances are, when the RIAA and Metallica are done with you, there will be no money left to buy a ball of chewing gum. I notice that Metallica has not let you off the hook – it appears, even if you block users, the band will press forward with its lawsuit against you. I’m afraid this is a double whammy for you – the lawsuit is still in effect, you will block users, and it will look like you have absolutely no backbone. Too bad. I feel sorry for your loyal supporters, who probably expected more out of you.

More than likely, you have big dreams of an IPO and the chance to earn money when this whole thing blows over. This is laughable, of course. Napster is now dead – we are simply waiting for the post-mortem. I doubt a VC would now touch you with a ten foot pole. I may be wrong – there seems to be no shortage of suicidal VCs out there, willing to throw money at any half-formulated and unsound idea that floats past. Maybe you can snag one of these?

Napster, you blew it. When you should have been championing the idea of freely shared music files, you were passing the buck to your users. Did you seriously think anybody was going to buy into your flaccid copyright disclaimer, least of all a gaggle of well-trained lawyers? Napster’s real visage is painfully obvious – another small company with proprietary software and high hopes of arriving at the finish line where the mythic pot of gold awaits. Instead, you were tripped up by lawyers and spoiled rock musicians. You have absolutely no philosophical argument to fall back on.

I have to hand it to you, though – Napster was a good idea. Your mistake was the central server, the office in San Mateo, and the complete lack of philosophical underpinnings outside of the possibility of hanging in there, going IPO, and getting your hands on the cash. It is sincerely amazing how easily you abandoned the people who supported you – and how easily you bowed to pressure from Howard King and Metallica.

I will throw my support behind Gnutella. You see, Gnutella is a GNU project – it is decentralized, dispersed, even anarchistic. The developers of Gnutella do not waste their time daydreaming about cashing in on file-sharing schemes – they are too busy writing code. Most of them have a philosophical foundation – not only freely distributable code and software, but music as well. It would seem, for you, this was simply a pretense. I wish you would write and tell me otherwise, but I tend to think you will ignore this message. You may not have the time to respond anyway. More than likely much of your time will be occupied by lawyers and court appearances.

Good luck. Too bad you blew it.


Kurt Nimmo

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