Napster: Supply and Demand Unbound

Kurt Nimmo

However, like anyone else, the majority of artists, musicians, and other members of creative professions want to be compensated for their efforts -- and like anyone else who invests hard work and creativity, they have the fundamental right to decide which innovative business models they want to pursue and which they do not. RIAA Napster Lawsuit Q&A

In Russia during the Soviet era, if you could not find toilet paper in the state run store, you found it on the black market. In present day America, if you cannot find your favorite music in the MP3 format, you download it via Napster.

In both examples, a very basic economic theory is afoot – supply and demand.

Internet clueless recording corporations and enlisted artists are in the process of attempting to hamper something that cannot possibly be stopped – the casual download of easily duplicatable music. Instead of accommodating consumers, the recording industry and its truncheon – the RIAA – have declared war against them.

It’s a war they cannot help but lose.

Like the War on Drugs, the War on Free Music has not only turned ugly, but threatens the very spirit of our Constitution. In response to emerging technologies, the recording industry has released its highly trained and handsomely compensated legal minions and lobbyists on the halls of Washington. In response, the government has enacted a series of laws designed to punish – even incarcerate – otherwise law-abiding consumers. One such law is the NET Act of 1999. It will become effective on July 1 of this year. NET is short for “No Electronic Piracy.” If you believe Kevin Mitnick received harsh treatment for kicking around on networks he did not own, consider what may happen to you if there are MP3 files on your computer and the government finds out about it – if convicted, you very well may receive up to three years in prison per count. On a second conviction, the term per count is elevated to six years. Can you imagine if you had a thousand MP3s on your hard drive – and the government decides to make you an example? Better not drop your soap in the shower.

In the same way Prohibition did not decrease the consumption of alcohol, archaic laws will not stop the free trading in MP3 files. Do we look back on the casual consumption of alcohol by millions of people during Prohibition as mass criminality? No, we now consider the law not only ineffectual but wrong. In the years to come, we will look at creaky and outdated copyright laws in the same way.

Surveys have indicated that people would like to pay for MP3s – if only the recording industry would provide them. Since the industry has demonstrated that it is not interested in the needs of music consumers on the Internet, those consumers have responded by using Napster and other programs. If there are no rolls of toilet paper in the state-run store, consumers will take a stroll over to the park and deal with a black market trader. Same with MP3s. The only difference is that the Soviet consumer had to pay for toilet paper with hard won rubles, whereas the music consumer does not pay for MP3 files. Even so, this does not negate the simple laws of supply and demand. If the ostrich that is the Big Five of recorded music had not responded to the fantastic growth and adoption of the Internet by sticking its head in the sand, they would be making money on MP3 files.

As eluded to in the RIAA Q&A, the industry will likely continue its aversion to Internet distribution of popular music – and fight consumer demand with highly publicized and counterproductive lawsuits. In the end, a few consumers may go to prison, but the vast majority will continue – either overtly with Napster, or via the underground of temporary FTP sites and IRC channels – to share music files. The eventual result will be a revisiting of the DMCA (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its spawn from Hell, such as the draconian NET Act that equates the free sharing of music files with sticking up gas stations to support a crack habit.

--Kurt Nimmo

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