Embattled Napster CEO discusses copyright issues

By Ron Harris Associated Press Writer
Monday June 18, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO – Embattled Napster, Inc. CEO Hank Barry took the stage at a conference of librarians Saturday to speak about the thorny issues surrounding his troubled song-swap company — issues that could soon vex libraries as well. 

Sitting alongside privacy experts, Barry sought to dispel the notion that copyright issues illuminated by Napster’s legal woes would disappear once a new, legal version of the song-sharing software debuts later this summer. 

“This is a very big battle that were all engaged in and it has very little to do with Napster,” Barry said. “It’s a battle over access to information.” 

He said “copyright absolutists” were responsible for the crackdown on individuals and business exploring the gray and unlitigated areas of intellectual property law. 

Barry spoke of Napster’s widespread popularity, saying that 375 million music files were merely a mouse-click away for the avid users sharing files on March 1. 

“From a record company perspective, that’s about the worst thing that ever happened,” Barry said. 

Those numbers have since dropped off as Napster continues to comply with a federal court injunction demanding the Redwood City-based company vigilantly police its system for unauthorized recordings. 

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of culture and communication at New York University, told the audience that the peer-to-peer concept made popular by Napster would survive and flourish despite changes the company plans to make to its service this summer. Gnutella and Freenet, file-sharing applications with no central server to shut down, would carry on the torch, Vaidhyanathan said. 

A legal gauntlet thrown down by publishing houses and record labels presents a formidable challenge for libraries seeking to augment their services through technology. 

“It cuts us out of the whole argument because you can’t argue for theft,” Vaidhyanathan said. 

Librarians have begun floating the idea of Docster, a Napster-like system wherein documents requested at separate branches could be scanned once and shared via a computer network. 

The inter-library loan system currently in place requires documents be re-scanned each time an individual requests to view them. This allows libraries an effective, but labor-intensive method of servicing the public. 

Changes could be in store for copyright law as lobbyists from many camps push lawmakers for changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

“Get ready because its going to be a big fight and its going to last around 10 years,” Barry said. 

The panel discussion was hosted by Chris Arnold of National Public Radio and was part of the American Library Association’s annual conference.