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Fear of being Napstered

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/10/05

What are non-musical artists to make of Napster, or more importantly, the spawn of Napster? With the digitisation of all media, artists want some way of preventing their works being Napstered the way Metallica's songs were.

According to Wired News, (see "What Next, Bookster?") the book publishing industry is terrified that it will be the next victim of mass-market non-compliance with copyright laws.

OK, so Stephen King has shown that he doesn't need the old fashioned way of publishing to keep his earnings up, but there aren't that many Stephen Kings around. Most authors are dependent on royalties to earn a living.

And the only way to earn royalties is to sell multiple copies of the same work.

It's timely, then, that author and celebrity geek Douglas Adams has started his own investigation of the future of media in the internet age.

In a series of radio programmes on BBC Radio 4, he is exploring the possible avenues for music, publishing, TV and technology.

The first programme, broadcast yesterday, looked at music, and particularly at Napster and its consequences.

Of particular interest were comments by musician, producer and artist (among other things) Brian Eno.

He stated that despite the claims of MP3 supporters that the format, and related software technologies like Napster, were of most benefit to up-and-coming, unsigned bands, in fact the vast majority of file downloads were for music produced by successful, established bands.

He said:

People want to download music that has cost millions of dollars to produce, so if they continue to do that, bands and record companies are going to become increasingly reluctant to invest that kind of money in quality products.

(That's a precis of his words - you can listen to the whole programme, or download various soundbites, from the BBC web site. The programme also includes comments from Michael Nesmith, Peter Gabriel, and John Perry Barlow.)

The point is, the same arguments apply to book publishers and creators of any other creative works. Eno himself, a famously creative person, claimed in the programme that while he personally didn't care if copyright disappeared, the effects of its passing would be far-reaching and potentially threatening to the survival of some art forms, or the continuing works of individual artists.

No wonder the book publishers, who make their profits from marketing the creative efforts of others, are running scared.