This is what -- week 30 of the Napster death watch?
Ever since the courts handed Napster its first legal defeat last summer, 50 million users have been nervously eyeing the top 40 lists wondering when, and whether, they're going to resume paying $16 to buy an album that has one song on it they want.
Meanwhile, many of them have begun auditioning alternatives to Napster, at least judging from reader response to a query a couple of weeks back. The recording industry assault on swapping of copyrighted files has spawned a new generation of programs designed to get around the various legal restrictions that will either kill Napster or force it to become a for-pay service.
The biggest problem with Napster, from this standpoint, is that there's someone to bust.
Napster has a central file server that registers the files you're willing to share and acts as a middleman between you and some anonymous music donor. It's designed specifically to share copyrighted music files and has no other use -- in the eyes of the law, this is akin to owning a lockpick rather than a screwdriver. It shows intent.
The new sharing software deals with these issues. In some cases there's no server, or the servers are covertly owned and dispersed. Most allow sharing of all file types, so it is at least arguable that they have substantial uses that don't involve copyright infringement.
Absent servers and central control, however, the consensus is that none of these programs comes close to Napster -- not in breadth of files, nor download speed, nor dealing with tricky issues like firewalls. You can forget about those all-night Napster sessions on your T3 line, downloading 300 or 400 songs.
Fact is, none of the programs works particularly well.
But then, who needs efficiency? Shutting down Napster, at this point, is like shutting the proverbial barn door after the proverbial horse has escaped: Pretty much everything recorded before the turn of the century has been downloaded and duped millions of times, and is now stored on computer hard drives, sans copy protection. For new-computer buyers, CD burners are practically free. Post-Napster, download needs are increasingly modest.
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