The May issue of Spin
had an interesting but fairly typical article on the whole Napster issue. Except for this intriguing aside:
"Any company involved in music distribution and aggregation - record labels, MP3 Portals, even Napster itself - grows more dispensable as individuals equip themselves with an increasing number of tools to collect and disseminate digital information to each other. Already, there's a public-domain version of Napster called OpenNap - anyone who wants to can use it to run their own Napster-like file-exchange service... Along with MP3s, these programs allow you to find and exchange all sorts of file types - which intensely scares anyone who traffics in intellectual property. Soon, the TV, movie, and porn industries may be filing lawsuits of their own as Napster-style applications are used to brazenly distribute everything from bootleg copies of The Simpsons to term papers and class notes."
Indeed. More people need to realise that the issue is bigger than just Napster vs. Metallica. The whole thing strikes me as reflecting capitalism's cycle of commercialisation/regeneration. What surprised me about Napster wasn't the ease with which I could find illegal MP3s, but that, unlike MP3 portals, I wasn't bombarded with the equivalent of ad banners and autocatalytic springpop windows. Napster caters to our greed, for sure, but the facilitation of that greed is very personal: a person who likes a song keeps it in the access folder on their computer; a person who wants the song retrieves it from there. The lack of any crassness which generally results from the broadly-targeted advertising currently ruling the web is refreshing, and really important somehow. If the net has become hopelessly bogged down with people trying to sell us things, Napster technology bypasses that framework, allowing us to create intimate connections with unknown people in a series of exchanges that entirely disregards the foundations of capitalist methodology, while still being totally, utterly capitalist.
Napster offers a uniquely personal experience: sharing things of "value" (which is entirely abstract and private rather than economically definable) with strangers. Whether it's songs or tv shows or essays or autobiographical poems, the implications are enormous: we could theoretically napster other peoples lives. Information, already threatening to drown us, will become even more inescapable, as even a single file on a single computer can mutate into a web-meme that just weeks later might be as ubiquitous as the number one song on the radio. I think that not just present culture, but also the mechanics of culture, will be transformed by this enormously. The power of the dollar will reassert itself eventually, but by then the net - and the world maybe - will have become a very different place.