Duke University Alumni Magazine

A Music Free-For-All

When a popular music-sharing service started offering songs via the Internet, record labels cried "theft" and a federal judge ordered removal or a shutdown. But at Duke, it's hard to find students who worry about their Napstering habits as a copyright violation-or as stealing.

t's a cold reality facing students on this warm fall evening-the approach of midterm exams and paper deadlines. So the campus has turned conscientious. The only intrusion into the quiet corridors of Trent Hall comes as students dash out of their rooms to meet a pizza delivery service.

Two Trent roommates, Brian and Alan (not their real names), are dutifully delving into class assignments. In the fashion of students across the decades, they're working to musical accompaniment. But these are students who are in step with the times, and the times seem to celebrate choice and convenience. So their music source is Napster -a particular convenience that signals sweet delights to them, even as it represents a sour note for the guardians of the music industry.

Napster software gives access to a central server that functions like an electronic matchmaker, or a big search engine. When the music-seeking user searches for a particular piece of music, the server checks its database for any other Napster users who are online and have that file. The search engine finds a match, the two computers at the endpoints effectively talk to each other, and the file is downloaded from one to the other.

In late July, a federal judge ordered Napster-which she said had created a "monster" and would now have to face the consequences-to block all major-label songs from its directory. If it couldn't do that, the judge ruled, the company would have to shut down. "Napster wrote the software; it's up to them to write software that will remove from users the ability to copy copyrighted material," she said. Two days later, an appeals court issued an emergency stay, saying it found substantial questions about the "merit and form of the injunction."

Duke then became part of the still unfolding Napster story. It was among more than a dozen schools asked by the attorney for recording artists Metallica and Dr. Dre to "promptly ban access by your community to Napster." A letter from Los Angeles attorney Howard King said the university "has a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to take appropriate steps to assure that it is not a willing participant in and an enabler of the theft of intellectual property through Napster."

But in a letter to King, Duke attorney Kate Hendricks declined the request. She wrote that Duke "has long been committed to fundamental principles of academic freedom and the uncensored dissemination of knowledge and information." A ban, she said, "would be an overbroad response to a specific problem and it would have the effect of foreclosing legitimate and lawful uses of Napster." Those legitimate and lawful uses might include downloading songs that relatively unknown artists, in a career-enhancing effort, release online.

Hendricks concluded her letter by saying Duke "is also firmly committed to the copyright laws and respect for the intellectual property rights of third parties. The university takes very seriously its obligations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to respond to and act upon complaints of infringement, and will promptly respond to and act upon any such complaints of actual infringement brought by your clients."

Duke and other schools believe, as The Chronicle of Higher Education put it, that online providers-which they consider themselves to be-are not required to monitor or mediate material passing through their networks. In an e-mail message to all students, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III advised them of the university's stance on Napster access; he also reminded them "that your license to use Duke's computing networks is predicated on legal use only, and that copyright infringement is not a permitted use."

As information technology security officer for Duke's Office of Technology Information, Charles Register '72 has been the contact for receiving notices about copyright violations. In a letter written last fall to a reporter for the Duke Chronicle, Register laid out the university's position. Violating a copyright is illegal, he emphasized, and that includes sharing MP3 files (computer files capable of storing large quantities of data, including music) of copyrighted material. "In most cases so far, the complaints have come from the entertainment industry, and most have concerned the unauthorized distribution of files in MP3 format," he said.

"The first thing I do in any copyright violation allegation is verify the complaint. It doesn't really matter whether the files are on a Duke server or on a student's personal computer connected to DukeNet. If any Duke-owned resource is involved, then under the provisions of the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act], I'm required to respond. When a student is involved, I will contact the student, advise them of the facts of the law and the complaint, and ask them to remove the materials from the network.

If the student refuses to comply with this request, then it's my responsibility to take whatever technical measures are necessary to make sure that all Duke resources are removed from the situation in a timely fashion. The student is referred to the appropriate dean, and it becomes a matter for the student disciplinary and judicial process." According to that appropriate dean, Associate Dean for Judicial Affairs Kacie Wallace '89, such warnings have always been sufficient in stopping the violations.

Michigan, Stanford, Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley, M.I.T., and Georgia Tech are among the universities that wouldn't accede to a Napster ban. Other schools have blocked Napster on the grounds that it is a tool for breaking the law. Among them is Northeastern University in Boston, where a former student wrote Napster's technical underpinnings in his dorm room. This fall, Oklahoma State campus police confiscated a student's computer over allegations, from the Recording Industry Association of America, that it had been used to distribute copyrighted material. The student had created his own Napster-like program.

Two of the nation's largest universities, Texas and Ohio State, took an anti-Napster stance because of concerns that their campus networks were getting clogged with swapped music. Texas' chief computing officer told interviewers, "Twenty percent of the total university bandwidth was going toward something that we were pretty sure was Napster use." (Bandwidth refers to data transmission capacity.) But according to Robert Currier, data communications director for the Office of Information Technology, Duke's network is particularly robust. Duke has built what is, in effect, a sub-network, called "ResNet." By serving dorm-based traffic, ResNet relieves pressure on the backbone of the university's network.

Then, in late October, Napster and the record industry blurred the battle lines: Napster, the young upstart, announced an alliance with industry giant Bertelsmann AG-which began 150 years ago as a religious-hymnal publisher-and said it would charge a fee, perhaps $4.95 a month, for subscription-based access to its service. Napster will develop a business model that will allow record companies and performers to be paid for their music. As Time reported, the challenge is to "come up with a way to keep music files simultaneously accessible and copyright protected." Bertelsmann became a majority stakeholder in the world's largest community of online enthusiasts. For its part, Napster gets the promise of permanency, relief from at least some of its travails in the courts-and a huge line of credit.

Back in Trent, Alan downloads twenty-two Napster music files in the course of a visitor's hour-long conversation. He talks about his fixation with a South Carolina band that hardly sees much conventional distribution, but that still pops up on the Napster database.

Brian has figured out that his computer can store some 3,000 music files, though he has just under 200. Some of the music he downloads is relatively obscure, like Turkish and Armenian music; other music comes from bootleg recordings. His Napster screen display tells him that right now, there are 1,330,000 files ripe for the picking. Napster allows him to search by either artist or song title; it's "ridiculously easy to use," as he puts it, and it's generally quick: He can download a song in fifteen seconds. And, of course, other users love plucking music from his repertoire, because data move in and out of Duke's network at a super-high speed. "Once you download it, it spreads like a virus," he says.

As he sees it, Napster is the ultimate consumer-protection device for the music consumer. No longer does the consumer have to count on the music sensibility of a radio deejay; no longer does he have to commit himself to purchasing a compact disc based on a single track. Brian says file-sharing will kill the compact disc-even though he insists that Napster has nurtured his own CD purchasing. "The only advantage to the CD is that you can take the CD with you wherever you go. But with wireless Internet connections in your car, with the handheld computer, there's no reason to rely on a solid-state device for music."

Does he worry about ripping off recording artists? It's the record industry, he says, that should be held to account. "When I spend $17 for a CD, where is the money going?" he asks. Let democracy reign in the Internet-driven marketplace, he says; let the people decide what they want to listen to. "I don't think the record companies do a good job at quality control. Just look at the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync."

James Boyle Professor of Law
Photo: Les Todd

When he considers the arguments made for Napster, James Boyle likes to look at a 1984 Supreme Court decision that ruled in favor of Sony. Boyle, an expert on cyberlaw, came to Duke this fall from the American University law school. In the Sony case, the justices ruled against movie production companies that had accused Sony-a manufacturer of home video cassette recorders-of contributing to copyright infringement. According to the majority opinion, "The sale of copying equipment, like the sale of other articles of commerce, does not constitute contributory infringement if the product is widely used for legitimate, unobjectionable purposes, or, indeed, is merely capable of substantial non-infringing uses."

"It was clear that one reason why they held this way is that we don't want the owner of the copyrights-in that case the movie companies, in this case the record companies-to be able to leverage their existing monopoly in one area into a monopoly in another area," Boyle says. "The movie companies were effectively seeking to make videotape recorders contraband, or seeking to have a monopoly control over them. Maybe that's the strongest policy argument on the side of Napster."

If Napster is guilty of contributory infringement, the path might be cleared to shutting down all peer-to-peer file sharing, or at least to giving the recording industry-the copyright holders-a lock over the technology. And to Boyle, those steps would diminish the genius of the Internet itself, its capacity to transmit information that "isn't subject to central control and isn't subject to filtering." It's risky to "outlaw technologies that can be used for lots of good purposes, just because the purpose that happens to be before the court right now is a bad one," he says. "And we have to be careful not to just pile on new monopolies onto the existing content providers.

"We've always tried to have holes in intellectual property systems. Holes are good. This is not some accident or some limited enforcement. It would be a bad thing if owners of intellectual property could control every use of their product. That would actually result in less innovation." The current case has produced a conglomeration of strange Net-fellows: The

Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly and the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons were among those who submitted a pro-Napster brief to the appellate court. If the court prevents Napster from helping users find copyrighted materials, Schlafly said, companies could use that precedent to stop the dissemination of information about their products. Referring to a controversial pharmaceutical now on the market, she told National Public Radio, "I would not want to see a situation where a Ritalin could come in and say, 'We have a copyrighted product and information, and we have to shut down all the search engines that are leading people to other, contrary information.' " In the same interview, Jonathan Potter, president of the Digital Media Association, said Napster couldn't be expected to know how every consumer is using its service. That would be akin to holding the phone company liable for crimes that were planned by telephone, he reasoned.

There have long been ways of making copying cheaper and easier-whether through the Xerox machine, the audio cassette recorder, or the VCR. There are transaction costs, though, to photocopying and distributing, say, the latest Scott Turow legal thriller. Digital copies are what Boyle calls "non-rival." That is, ten people can't share a sandwich; ten people can share a song. "My use doesn't interfere with your use. You can have a version, I can have a version, they're both perfect, and there are no or very low transaction costs." At each stage of technological evolution, "the content providers, the copyright holders, have said, the sky is falling, the sky is falling," he says. "That's one of the reasons why people are a little skeptical now. About the VCR, the movie companies were just demonstrably wrong. They said, this will destroy our business. It saved their business. I'd say that content providers have 20-20 downside vision: They see perfectly the costs of every new technology, and imperfectly the opportunities."

Still, Napster might be toppled by the fair-use conventions of copyright law. That's the hope of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Songwriters Guild of America, and the American Federation of Musicians in their "friend of the court" briefs. The U.S. Copyright Office and the Justice Department also have weighed in with the recording industry.

Industry groups representing some of the biggest technology and communications companies-America Online, Sony Electronics, Yahoo!, AT&T-have; filed briefs bolstering the other side of the legal argument. One of the tests of fair use is the market impact of an act of copying, Boyle says. "So if you make a photocopy of my book in order to read some portion of it at home, that has a very small effect on the market for the work in question. If you make 500,000 copies of it, that has a very large effect. Something that might be legal if individually done might be illegal when done by very large numbers of people or when facilitated by some central organization."

Boyle says that when it targets Napster in its lawsuit, the Recording Industry Association of America has a strong argument: Napster is actively facilitating mass copying, and indeed may seek to make money from the practice in the long run. The recording industry puts its concerns in stark terms: "An individual making a copy of a TV program (which she was invited to watch for free) so that she can watch it later cannot be equated with an individual redistributing a copy of a CD to millions of anonymous strangers who were not invited by the copyright owner to get it for free."

It's hard to find students who worry about their Napstering habits as a copyright violation-or as stealing. "The system was designed to be leaky; it was designed to have trading and swaps, and this is just the new site of that leakiness," says Boyle. "I would have to say, though, that occasionally I become slightly irritated by the self-righteous tone of the people who are using Napster. I accept the argument that the music industry is protecting more than just the rights of artists, who receive a vanishingly small proportion of the total profit generated. What's more, that profit goes to a tiny subset of the artists involved. Does that justify the activity of a group of people who tend to be either disproportionately well-off or college students operating on subsidized high-speed Internet connections? They say, 'We're striving to bring this new musical world into being.' Well, they're striving to get music for free."

"Most people don't understand what copyright law is all about or feel that something that is not in physical form is not 'property,' "says Fred Goldring '79, a partner in a Hollywood entertainment-law firm. Goldring's firm represents such artists as Will Smith, Boyz II Men, and Herbie Hancock. Many consumers view Napster as a way to preview music, he adds, particularly the tracks that will never get play time on the radio or MTV. In that way they can decide whether they want to invest in the (high) price of the CD. "So to many people, but not all, Napster is kind of like interactive radio or the listening booths at record stores."

Even if consumers are aware that they might be stealing, "they feel it's payback time for the record companies," he says. "They don't really factor in that the artists and songwriters are also being deprived of income." According to the Recording Industry Association of America's own figures, shipments of compact discs in the United States reached an all-time high in the first half of 2000, up 6 percent from the year-ago period to 420 million units. A marketing research firm called @plan Inc. found that 77 percent of Web surfers age eighteen to twenty-four think music swapping increases sales of CDs and cassettes. A less formal survey conducted by Element, a teen marketing site on the Web, found that younger Web users overwhelmingly support free music downloads. According to those findings, 70 percent of those who download free music don't feel guilty about it, nor do they buy less music because of it.

Statistics are suspect, though, and they're subject to infinite interpretation. Goldring cites record-company surveys showing a 4 percent drop in CD sales around college campuses, where most Napster activity is presumably centered. But such statistics don't by themselves document a Napstering trend: Internet-savvy students are likely to be buying more CDs online. Other studies purport to show that 95 percent of the music that users download from Napster they delete from their hard drives within a week. Goldring says, "It's not clear whether that is because they are burning songs onto recordable CDs or have just grown tired of listening to that particular music."

Duke's Boyle says the Internet naturally increases copying. But if record companies play it smart, they will also realize that the Internet lowers the costs of distribution practically to zero. "The music industry has been extremely slow to move in that direction. The reason is that right now it charges an extremely high premium on the sale of CDs. And what might be a good business model on the Net, where you unbundle the song from the platter-that is, the CD-is something that undercuts their other business model. The one thing copyright doesn't do is that it doesn't give you a right to continue in your current business model. And that's one of the things that the music industry, and indeed every industry, tries to leverage it into: Don't just protect us from copying, but protect us from ever having to change the way that we do things, or from new competitors who maybe would do things differently and better. And whenever copyright law is extended to do that, it's a bad thing. It's anti-competitive, it's anti-innovative, and it's anti-consumer."

Beyond providing case studies for generations of future law students, the Napster debate may serve the purpose of disrupting the record industry out of a musical status-quo. Yale Fineman, user services librarian for the Duke Music Library, says, "What Napster has done is to give the record companies a shot in the backside. They're starting to put stuff on the Web, because they realize that that is really how many people want to consume their music. And they'll make it so good and so cheap that in the end, Napster will have turned out to be a catalyst"-a catalyst, that is, for the idea that people will pay for music online. Assuming, of course, that their music comes to them in a way that's convenient for them.

Yale Fineman, Duke Music Librarian
Photo: Les Todd

Fineman has launched his own project that's a blend of technology and convenience. He developed and maintains a website called DW3 Classical Music Resources; he calls itan aggregation of information, the most comprehensive collection of classical-music resources on the Web, with links to more than 2,000 sites in more than a dozen languages. The site features databases relating to every aspect of music, from music theory to record reviews; information on different kinds of music, ranging from Gregorian chant to computer music; electronic journals and newsletters, with a repertoire that stretches from Guitar and Lute Issues to taktlos, the online music magazine of Bavarian Radio; organizations and centers for scholarly research; nationally and regionally oriented pages, like the Croatian Music Information Centre and British Choirs on the Net; chronologies of thousands of musicians and composers; and homepages that cover composers from the Medieval and Renaissance periods through the late twentieth century.

The record industry still has the heft and the inventory to overwhelm Napster-like services, Fineman says. As he envisions the music library of the future, he imagines that student expectations in their formal listening assignments will hinge on online availability. (Fineman talks about a current student mystified by a listening assignment with a traditional LP; the student couldn't figure out why he had to turn over the LP after one side had finished.) "You have a company called EMI in Europe. They have the biggest collection of classical music in the galaxy, with a hundred thousand titles. Most of those titles have been digitized. If you're EMI, all you have to do is download the stuff onto a server and charge a library like us, say, several thousand dollars a year. And all of a sudden, instead of having 7,500 CDs in our collection, we have 100,000 of the best classical-music recordings ever made. That's the great equalizer. And Napster will never have access to those resources."

Entertainment lawyer Goldring says those record companies, as they come to rely on online distribution models, will have to become adept at helping consumers in making their choices-something that, he notes, the companies "have not proven themselves very adept at in recent years, with about a 95 percent failure rate in launching new artists." He says, "Up until now, we have relied on the record industry to be the gatekeepers to promoting and distributing their recordings and leaving all the unsigned artists to somehow figure out how to get their music to the masses on their own-which has been next to impossible. However, we now have a system which essentially allows every recording artist access and distribution to a wide public audience. The problem is, the fatter the pipe, the more it quickly gets filled up.

"It used to be that radio stations had deejays with a wealth of knowledge who would play music they personally thought was cool and tell you all about it with real passion. Or there were journalists whose opinions you trusted. Today, with systematized playlists at radio stations and talent scouts at record companies who are looking merely to sign a clone of the latest successful thing and not take chances, there are fewer and fewer trusted authorities who the consumer can rely on to help them separate the wheat from the chaff."

Goldring is convinced that there's a lot of money to be made for record companies, artists, songwriters, publishers, and service providers from Napster and similar services. Many consumers will be willing to "pay for the ability to instantly access any music they want to hear, whenever they want it, wherever they are," he says. A consumer can access film entertainment through traditional theaters, pay cable, free cable, pay-per-view, network TV, or video-store and library rentals. "In the music business, we are in the Stone Age, similar to thirty years ago, when if you wanted to see a movie, you had only two choices: see it in a theater or wait until it aired on one of the three TV networks."

Record companies are reluctant to make the transition from selling CDs to becoming a service business, Goldring says. "The danger is that the longer they hold out and try to keep the status quo, the more people will get used to getting their music for free, and the less people may feel compelled to pay for it in the future." One of Goldring's colleagues in the entertainment law field is Eric Greenspan '72. As a Duke student, Greenspan ran Major Attractions for the Student Union; he brought to campus, among other acts, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, and the Allman Brothers. In his first year of law school, he promoted big-name shows, including the Watkins Glen Rock Festival. He's now managing partner for a firm whose clients include Jewel and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

"All through the last century, you could always project how musical recordings would be distributed to the public," he says. Even as the packaging has changed-from player-piano software, to eight-tracks, to cassettes, to CDs-the store-to-consumer model has been constant. "But the industry just didn't anticipate the speed at which the whole industry has evolved on the Internet. When movie studios started releasing movies on videocassette, they never even considered the possibility that there would be rental stores. That development threw the whole model completely off. It's just what has happened with Napster."

A self-described "old Deadhead," Greenspan says he did his share of trading tapes and buying bootleg records. "But every time I would buy a bootleg record, I had every one of the regularly distributed records by that artist as well. I was that much of a fan. It's one thing if you share a favorite record with a friend; it's another thing if you give it to thousands of people you don't even know, and in so doing affect the distribution of the music."

He has a hard time accepting a principled defense of Napster, which he considers the equivalent of a new privilege for the already privileged. Napster, as he sees it, is "free music, in effect, but with two caveats: You have to be rich enough to own a computer and rich enough to own a fast modem. If you have a slow modem and want to download Napster, you might as well go to the store and buy the CD, because the download will take forever and the computer will crash. So if you're rich enough and lucky enough, the music is free.

"Whether or not you're talking about a big, bad record company or Metallica, the fact is that you're still taking that person's material, whether they want it distributed or not. As a general proposition, I find that a cavalier attitude. The idea that anyone can get anything he likes-there's something fundamentally wrong with that."

Greenspan, like Goldring, says the music industry will always need the mediating presence now provided by the record companies. After all, there aren't many random samplers of music via Napster, he says. "I hear statistics that say we have 10,000 artists, or 15,000 artists, or 20,000 artists. Well, isn't that great? Everybody has a way to expose their music. The problem is, why should I listening to recording artist number 18,571?

If there are 5,000 radio stations on the Internet, why is someone going to station number 4,152? We still need someone to influence people's musical tastes, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. And artists still need that measure of promotion that major record companies can provide. There are marketing companies that can independently promote your music. Some of these streetwise companies are pretty influential in helping bands get exposed. But somebody has to pay those companies. And most bands don't have any money at the beginning of their careers. It's the record companies that have the money."

If record companies can't make money in a Napster age, they won't promote music; and if promotion dies, then the music-or at least the less tried-and-tested music-will die. "Anarchy doesn't work in the real-world market," Greenspan says. "Anarchy has never been a good way for making money."

The payment-for-privileges model may have earned consumer acceptance, but it hasn't rewarded artists very generously. Goldring says that as physical distribution and the attendant costs-for manufacturing and shipping, for example-go away, artists and songwriters should be better rewarded.

"Up until now, their deal with the record companies has been kind of Faustian. Record companies have essentially said to artists that we'll pay to record, market, distribute, and promote your records, but you need to give up 90 percent of the money on the record sales because by doing so, you'll become known and be able to generate and keep 100 percent of the money from publishing, merchandising, personal appearances, sponsorships, and other ancillary sources. Oh, and by the way, all of the money we, the record company, lay out to record your record, and a significant part of the money we spend on marketing and promoting your record and making your videos, is really your money being spent, not ours. We are going to recoup that money first out of your royalties, not 'off-the top,' before you'll actually see a royalty check."

What Goldring calls "the dirty little secret of the record business" is that most artists, except for the superstars, "never see any record royalties from record sales other than their initial advance." But "artists have lived with the deal all along," he says, "because they had no choice, and because it at least allowed them to have a music career and the opportunity to make money from those other sources." For those who indulge in music careers-and the legions of music listeners-old habits are eroding. Trent Hall's Brian and Alan, for example, had an intimate acquaintance with Scour, which, before it was dragged into bankruptcy, operated a music and movie exchange service. "How can I study when I'm taking in a Seinfeld episode online?" Brian jokes. As he talks with a visitor, he observes that one of the Seinfeld files stored on his hard drive has just been downloaded off his computer. The Simpsons are another dorm-room favorite, drawn from the same source. Some weeks after that conversation, the scene soured for Scour as it was confronted with copyright-infringement lawsuits.

But writing on the website eBookNet.com, Wade Roush notes that just over the last several months, a new generation of software has emerged that makes it easier than ever to share digital content over the Internet-not just music, but also movies and books. Unlike Napster, the programs are completely decentralized and largely anonymous. "Users essentially become nodes of a free, globally distributed lending library, where no one needs to give their name to get a library card (or, for that matter, return what they borrow)."

Gnutella can search for and share any variety of media file without a Napster-type central database-leaving no one for copyright holders to sue if their documents are pirated. A similar technology, FreeNet, calls itself a "near-perfect anarchy." Using the Internet as its transport mechanism, FreeNet automatically replicates content to many FreeNet sites, or "nodes," as soon as a file is introduced. As FreeNet says about itself, it "allows information to be published and read without fear of censorship because individual documents cannot be traced to their source or even to where they are physically stored." Its main designer was an Edinburgh University student working on his final-year project in artificial intelligence and computer science.

From a political perspective, these applications hold out the promise of making the Internet "even more freewheeling and democratic," in Roush's words. But from a commercial perspective, they "hold out the terrifying prospect of limitless content piracy."


There are already models for the future of the music industry-a future driven by music delivery over the Internet rather than through products like the compact-disc player.

Spinner.com, founded in 1996 and a part of the America Online empire since the spring of 1999, calls itself the first and largest Internet music service. It streams, or broadcasts over the Internet, digitized songs on some 150 channels of music. (Napster, in contrast, hinges on the ability to download songs onto computer hard drives.)

As its website promotion says, the range of styles fits the consumer's "every whim." Among the styles served up are classical, jazz, blues, rock, gospel, "trip-hop" (a combination of fast-beat club music and hip-hop), Spanish-language, Sinatra-tempo music, surfing music, klezmer (a popular music form that originated in Eastern Europe when traveling bands of musicians would play at social events), and even nature sounds.

Spinner's president and cofounder, Josh Felser '86, says Spinner gears itself to "people who want more control over their radio listening." He estimates that the service reaches some three million people. Music listeners can "pre-set" up to twenty-one channels for themselves; each channel may offer up to 50,000 selections. Those selections are made by deejays with radio or music-club backgrounds-which provides the imprint of music authority. The streaming technology makes the music portable-which provides the convenience that a stack of CDs doesn't offer. In turn, listeners are encouraged to rate the songs, a system that contributes to changes in the repertoire.

The songs are free to the listeners: Spinner supports itself through banner ads on its website and through audio ads that are inserted into the various channels-though less obtrusively, Felser says, than with traditional radio broadcasts. And if consumers like what they're hearing, they're just "one click away" from purchasing a CD.

Another music service, Riffage.com, describes itself as "the Net's leading destination for people who want a personalized music experience." It also boasts of offering "an online community where fans of similar or varied music tastes can converge." Riffage houses a large selection of digital music for purchase by download, along with CDs, T-shirts, and other related products. It says its musical focus is on independent artists. Through devices like band- specific home pages, it looks to "provide bands with an exciting avenue to distribute their music and build a fan base."

Among its unusual features is a "Riffage Live" division that offers performances by major and independent artists through television, video webcasts, and live performances. The company has produced and hosted webcasts of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and BBC Music Live. Its own live concert series, "Riffage Live from the Great American Music Hall," was taped for broadcast on cable television and offered via webcasts. Page Murray '85, the company's vice president for marketing, says Riffage employs the "personalization power" of the Internet, and that it veers away from generic model that pushes "the most popular downloads" on consumers of music.

"The company is built off a philosophy that musical taste is a totally personal thing-which sounds like it should be completely obvious, but there's nobody in the music business who believes it or at least acts upon it," he says. "We go out and find lots of people who have the same musical taste, and we look inside each of their portfolios. Chances are you might listen to seventy-five songs of one genre, and twenty-five songs that not a lot of other people listen to." Through the Riffage model of sophisticated swapping, those twenty-five songs become unconventional, and interesting, recommendations for listeners.

"We actually allow people to listen to and rate whatever music they like; we don't care about it by genre," Murray says. In fact, he adds, about 75 percent of the music that people spend their time listening to on Riffage is outside their stated preferences. "The genre, when you think about it, is a total artificial, arbitrary classification."

In Murray's view, a consumer-oriented model will be embraced by the major record companies-even though they have been "skeptical and hostile toward every new technology until they figure out how to make money off it," in his words. The challenge, he says, will be to apply an innovative technology to making money, or to "monetize" Web-based technology.

"Monetization could be putting advertising up on the site. But monetization can take a million different forms. Here's a great form of monetization: You sign up, and if you agree to rate every song that I give you, I'm going to give you all the music you want. "Well, if consumers are rating the songs and if I'm a record label, all I have to do is go find everybody who gives it the score of 100 and pre-sell the CD. And then I can fire the entire marketing department."

-Robert J. Bliwise

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor