Napster makes a disgraceful return with RIAA approval

    The Brand New Legal Napster (not to be confused with the Old Skanky Criminal Napster) has just been released amid a flurry of publicity. The Recording Industry Association of America wasted no time in proclaiming the coming of Napster 2.0 as the single greatest event in the history of the universe.

    But this is Napster, right? The bad little program that started all this file-swapping nonsense? The program that allowed legions of people with fast internet connections to illegally share the one good song off of any given album, therefore putting artists that couldn’t create more than one worthwhile song out of business?

    Wrong. New Napster is basically a repackaged version of Apple Computer’s popular iTunes (now with more advertisements!), where legions of people with fast Internet connections send 99 cents to the RIAA for every song downloaded. It’s not a file-sharing program; it’s a pay-for-play deal like the pornographic movies at a hotel room.

    And this new Napster is supposed to stop person-to-person (or “”P2P””) file-sharing networks like Kazaa, where everything is free. At least, the RIAA thinks so. These fine legislators are already taking steps to sue everybody they can find with illegal copies of J-Lo’s latest three-minute moan on their hard drive, but apparently the “”search and destroy”” tactic isn’t working as planned. So the RIAA, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to inflate Napster’s corpse to aid the cause.

    Here’s a hint, guys. Repackaging the same old crap and calling it something else will only win you very stupid and very gullible consumers, most of whom are not even close to the target audience of file-sharers that the new Napster had in mind. These illegal downloaders are ruthless pirates with expensive computers who are very, very cheap. If anything on the internet has a cost, they won’t buy it.

    So, in terms of meeting a target audience halfway, the new Napster can be summed up as one of the worst ideas in the history of bad ideas which includes “”Jurassic Park II”” and “”Jurassic Park III.”” (These particular movies are also prime examples of repackaging the same old crap to prey on the stupid and gullible.) In a perfect world, the new Napster would die a slow and painful death; lonely and unused while blatantly illegal P2P networks laugh in its little digital face.

    But we do not live in a perfect world, as evidenced by the existence of both “”Jurassic Park”” sequels.

    No, the new Napster has been given an extended lease on its entirely unnecessary life by the administration of Pennsylvania State University, where all students paying registration fees will be “”given”” a subscription to the new service, paid for by their networking fees.

    It is the hope of the RIAA and the university administration that giving the kids their music for “”free,”” not to mention legally, they will go off and continue legal downloading patterns once they leave the university.

    At first glance, despite the obvious gripe that money that should go to the university is being used to buy a computer program, this seems like a decent idea. After all, this halts congestion on Kazaa, everybody gets music for free, and both students and lawmakers are happy, right? Wrong again!

    Under the “”Everybody Pays for New Napster”” plan, all students are forced to pay for something that not everyone uses. This concept is nothing new. Students are forced to pay for student publications and student cable, and not everybody uses those. So why should the case be any different with the new Napster?

    Not everybody can use the new Napster, for the new Napster sneers at any computer not running Windows 2000 or Windows XP. This isn’t a simple case of being barred from cable service because you have no television. If television were run like the new Napster, everybody without a Toshiba-brand 19-inch flat-screen TV would be unable to watch.

    We may set these faults aside, for most notoriously cheap file-sharers with expensive computers use PCs with the latest Windows operating system, and it’s pretty cool for them to have their university pay for the ability to download MP3s for a music collection. Of course, this would only apply if Penn State is paying for this “”ability,”” which it is not in the strictest sense of the word.

    To understand why, we must ask: What’s the use of an MP3? What makes MP3s more popular than the array of free radio stations on the internet (including UCSD’s local misfit, KSDT) where you can play any song you want online for free?

    There are two answers:

    1. You can make CDs from MP3s and give them away or play them.

    2. MP3s can be kept in large collections so that you can brag to your nerd friends about the number of songs on your hard drive.

    New Napster can’t do either of these things.

    Students are free to download as many songs as they want, but there is a charge if you want to burn a CD. And new Napster employs the glorious method of “”tethered download,”” which means you cannot keep the songs after your tuition-paying days are over at Penn State.

    So, in effect, the university is paying for a service that mentions the name “”MP3″” but has none of the actual benefits of MP3s. It’s kind of like the project car you have in your garage. It’s the shell of a 1963 Volkswagen, but it doesn’t have a motor, or paint, or any upholstery, but you call it a “”car”” out of convenience. Maybe the guys over at Penn State would like to lay down 20-grand for it.

    Despite what you think about the New Napster, or software, or these funny tan boxes we call computers, there is a greater issue here: should student fees be used to support political ideologies that we, as students, disagree with? After all, UCSD just went through a major administrative belch for its paid support of Proposition 54, an issue some students did not agree with.

    Our student government is set up so that we, the students, are entitled to a pro-rated refund of our student fees if it funds anything controversial. Does this mean that anybody who does not support the new Napster is entitled to such a refund at Penn State? We cannot help but notice that a large number of college students support such file-sharing by engaging in it.

    The difference is that file-sharing is illegal. But should universities fund alternatives to file-sharing instead of not encouraging the file-sharing in the first place? Many colleges are already discouraging file sharing by increasing control over networks. Isn’t that enough support for the battle against illegal downloads? These same schools do not support the illegal practice of smoking marijuana, but should they force every student to buy a pack of gum or cigarettes in order to offer an “”alternative””?

    Instead of offering the candy-coated alternative of the new Napster, Penn State should save students’ money and allow them to decide which legal music downloading service they would like to use. This is the way the free market works: consumers pay for products from which they will benefit.

    Nobody will benefit from Napster. Let the RIAA get their royalties from the other legal file-sharing programs. And let the students have control over their computers.

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