Napster is dead, long live Napster

Napster appears to be dead. The CEO has stepped down and employees have been offered a choice of severance or unpaid leave. Frankly, I’m relieved. Napster as it was in its heyday was a fantastic symbol of the power of the Internet’s masses: 70,000,000 users joined in 18 months, the world stood on its head, and the music industry’s distribution hegemony was credibly and seriously challenged.

When Napster was getting off the ground, the labels pooh-poohed it, basically taking the position that anything that got built by average users, ripping their own MP3s, adding their own metadata, serving off their own PCs with their own network connections would suck. Only a centralized system could deliver “High Quality Content,” because every file on the network would be vetted and served by a Responsible Grownup from the labels.

The new, BMG-owned Napster was very much a Responsible Grownup proposition. Responsible Grownups would centralize the files, take them out of that greasy-kids-stuff MP3 format and put them in a Responsible Grownup format with “rights management” that would curtail your ability to format-shift, time-shift and repurpose the music you downloaded. The system really looked like it was going to brutally suck.

So I can’t really feel too sad for poor old dead Napster. Death was the best it could hope for now. Dead, its name can remain synonymous with revolutions; had it lived, its name would have been synonymous with crap.

And now that it’s dead, I think it would be only fitting if some open-sourceniks were to start a new file-trading system and call it “Napster” — in the confusingly glorious tradition of DiVx 🙂 and Carnivore. Link Discuss