The program, and later company, named Napster, has brought about a historical debate concerning copyright law and the Internet. Napster's is a free Internet music file-sharing program that allows users to quickly and easily swap files with one another directly, without the use of a centralized file server. Its software aims to make finding MP 3 files easier on the Internet. No files are actually hosted on Napster servers as Napster provides access to music files on others' computers. This system of computers is called peer-to-peer networking. In addition to its search features, Napster contains three major components: 1) A chat program that allows users to chat with each other in rooms based on music genre.

2) An audio player that plays MP 3 files from right inside Napster in the event that users do not have an external player or prefer not to use one. 3) A tracking program that allows users to keep track of their favorite MP 3 libraries for later browsing. Napster was the brainchild of, at the time, nineteen-year-old college student, Shawn Fanning, at Northeastern University in Boston. Throughout his life, Fanning had two loves: one was sports and the other was computers. Over time his curiosity for computers grew and sports became less important, concentrating most of his time working with computers, primarily focusing on two aspects of the computer, programming and the Internet.

During his freshman year at Northeastern University, in 1998, Fanning was trying to enter computer science classes higher than the entry level (Jones, 2001, 1 A). Not finding anything challenging about the courses he was enrolled in, Fanning decided to start writing a Windows based program in his spare time. He spent most of his time in chat rooms talking with experienced computer networking programmers. Fanning thought-up the general idea of, what is now known as, Napster from his roommate who loved music files, most commonly known as MP 3's, but was frustrated with most music sites which had limited music files available and detested having to endlessly search website's looking for particular songs. Fanning, keeping his roommate's frustrations in mind, and his programming skills at hand, began writing Napster. He used the idea of all users being connected to one central computer server, and having access to each other's music files that users wished to share ("MTV News," 2000, 1).

In other words, "Napster makes its application software freely available for download by consumers from its website. This software allows users to connect their PCs to and participate in the Napster peer-to-peer file indexing system. Users are not required to share any files with others, either as a condition of using the Napster system or in order to obtain files from other users" (Reuters, 1999). Napster is a facilitator that allows its users to trade music files. Fanning eventually left school and created Napster, Inc. in May of 1999 and moved the company to California in September, 1999.

Since Napster's launch, it has become the industries leader in music sharing with over sixty million users and an average of over 300, 000 files available for downloading at any given time. Due to the high number of users and files being shared the music industry is in an uproar. While Napster does not condone copyright infringement, the software was not developed to prevent or deter it, or for royalties to be paid to artists whose songs are being duplicated for free. Unlike similar file-sharing applications (Gnutella, Freenet), Napster limits users to uploading / downloading of MP 3 files only. These files are compressed wave (. was) files.

The advantage of MP 3 files is that they are approximately one-tenth the size of the corresponding. was file and can be close-to-CD-quality. It is for this reason that many artists, record labels and other music industry stakeholders are concerned by the MP 3 file format and applications like Napster that simplify the sharing of copyrighted material. Other file formats commonly used on the Internet were not as threatening to the recording industry; primarily due to the reduced quality of the recording. Real audio (. ra, .

rm) files have reduced sound quality (comparable to radio) and are usually streamed over a different protocol, allowing people to listen to songs without having (or being able) to download the source files. Midi, another 'music' file format common on the Internet aren't a threat to the music industry because the files are not actually a recording of the music; rather a set of instructions to the computer as to what sounds to play (and there is no way to duplicate vocal tracks). This file format is also becoming outdated and being used less and less. The reaction from recording artists, record labels and other music industry players has been varied, but primarily anti-Napster. In June 2000, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster and asked for an injunction to shut down its file-sharing service, claiming that it facilitates theft and violates copyright laws. Specifically, the RIAA contends that Napster is responsible for contributory infringement of their copyrights.

Contributory infringement is defined as where "a person, with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes, or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another." Many recording artists have also followed suit, including the heavy metal band, Metallica, who forced Napster to terminate the user accounts of some 300, 000 individuals who downloaded their songs. Advancing technology, specifically digital technology including the Internet, has spawned new challenges and debates related to copyright law, for both copyright owners and information users. It has significantly increased access to, and distribution of, information. U. S. Copyright law originated with the Constitution and protect intellectual property by giving owners exclusive rights but also limit these rights to provide for "fair use" of information by the public.

This includes rights to, or even to authorize others to, reproduce and or distribute the work. Much of the current debate centers on balancing the respective rights, needs, and responsibilities of owners and users. Owners feel they must be protected so they can make their materials available on the Internet without fear that it is free for the taking. However, users fear the elimination of fair use. Purchasers of CDs have the right to make copies of the music on the CD for personal use and then play the music that was copied. The question arises when a computer user converts the music into MP 3 format and then makes the file available to other computer users without the copyright holder's permission.

Copyright holders charge that this is piracy. Much of the debate also centers around whether or not current copyright law is antiquated and needs to be updated and rethought to deal with the emerging digital technology. The RIAA contends that Napster teaches a generation of music consumers that artists do not deserve to be paid for their work, and their creative efforts are free for the taking. Napster's stand is that there are enough exemptions in the copyright laws to permit its file-sharing program to exist. Napster, in its defense, refers to the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, which allows anyone to copy music for 'noncommercial use.' Many legal scholars question this, however, saying that it applies only to specialized recording equipment and not computer hard drives. They also argue that Congress intended the law to cover limited recordings for personal use, not the widespread distribution of music that Napster allows.

Napster also cites a standard the Supreme Court established in 1984 when movie companies tried to stop Sony from selling VCRs because they feared widespread copying of movies and television shows. In that case the court narrowly decided that as long as a technology like a VCR had 'substantial' legitimate uses, it couldn't be banned. Napster argues that this standard is relevant because its software can promote new artists who give permission for their songs to be downloaded. Part of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act is also being referred to by Napster in its defense. This act, which applies to Internet service providers and search engines exempts them from copyright claims if the company that owns it is unaware that the information the engine retrieves violates copyrights.

Throughout this extended battle between Napster, the RAI I and other parties, Napster has managed to stay afloat. In an attempt to squelch some of the flames, in October 2000 Napster partnered with Bertelsmann, the German media and publishing giant that had been one of the companies suing Napster. Under the terms of the agreement, Bertelsmann will assist Napster in developing a membership-based service that compensates artists, record labels and publishers each time a song is traded. As soon as Napster implements the service, Bertelsmann's music division, BMG, will withdraw its lawsuit and make its catalog available. Bertelsmann will also provide a loan to Napster to develop the service, which would probably take the form of a monthly subscription. The loan could later be converted to Napster shares.

Bertelsmann has also appealed to the other major labels currently suing Napster - Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony and Universal - to join the effort to develop the Napster network. On January 25, 2001 TVT Records joined Bertelsmann in working with Napster instead of against. Napster is far from out of the clear however. On February 20, Napster, along with its partner Bertelsmann AG, offered to pay $1 billion in licensing fees over the next five years, if record companies agree to drop their copyright infringement lawsuits against it. Napster has offered to pay $150 million a year to major labels and $50 million a year to independent labels and artists.

The response was not favorable. In March of 2001, Napster began blocking songs. The company said, however, that in order for it to block a song, rights-holders must submit the artist's name, song title, file name, and certification of ownership. Napster also wants three days from time of notification.

Napster is still having difficulty filtering out copyrighted songs on the lists provided to them and the music industry is still upset, impatiently waiting for Napster to figure out how to accurately filter out copyrighted songs. Several technical and music industry experts have called for Napster to filter its service by searching for songs with technology known as digital fingerprints to analyze the content of the MP 3 files. A lot of new filtering software is currently being developed. What will work properly and be accepted by the music industry has yet to determined. As to what will happen to Napster is still up in the air.

In the mean time there are many alternatives (not equal to) to Napster available. One alternative, Gnutella, moves a step away from the Napster concept by ditching the directory-server concept entirely. Instead, there's just a bunch of computers sharing certain files and passing search requests to and from each other. The Freenet project, Scour, i Mesh, ftp, etc. are all alternatives to Napster. The most promising one right now, however, is Napigator.

Napigator uses Napster technology. This Windows-only program lets users select an independently run, Napster-compatible server to connect to, based on capacity and performance data. It's easy to use, folding nearly seamlessly into the Napster application itself. Individual 'nap servers' could still be shut down, but it's unlikely that all of them could easily be expunged from the Internet.