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Editorial: I Want My MP3s!

It was the day that the music died. The day my files at My.MP3.com went missing. May 10th, 2000--The day that will live in infamy.

As soon as I heard the news, I hurried to My.MP3com, lo and behold, my "beamed" tracks were gone. All that was left was non-major label music that I had completely forgotten about. Where was my Britney Spears? My Luna? My New Edition?

During my move from New York to San Francisco, I relied on MyPlay.com (http://www.myplay.com) to upload some of my favorite MP3s onto their server. And I hurriedly "beamed" as many CDs as I could to my My.MP3.com before I had to pack them and have them transported cross country on a sixteen wheeler. Fortunately no one had tampered with my MyPlay.com music, but My.MP3.com music was gone. Where did my Ella Fitzgerald go? My Metallica?

Ah, Metallica. Here I came to a new dilemma. As a card-carrying member of the Metallica fan club, how can I remain a fan—a rabid fan--of Napster? Very easily. I can't stop loving Napster just as much as I can't stop loving Metallica. Do I laugh at the "Napster Bad" cartoon at Camp Chaos? Do I smirk at the PayLars.com (http://www.paylars.com) site? (Total donations of $372.) Do I decide to only download Metallica music from Napster using Metallicster software (http://www.metallicster.uklinux.net/)?

Yes, I admit to liking Napster. Sure, they nabbed some Webbys at the show a few weeks ago and traffic is going through the roof according to Nielsen//NetRatings data released last week. What's not to like?

Last week Webnoize did some research that found that 57% of college students are at least weekly users of Napster. "Consumers have taken to Napster not just because it provides access to popular music for free, but also because it offers something mostly missing from the online music experience: a rich search and discovery process, with immediate gratification," said Webnoize Analyst Ric Dube, who authored the report.

Forrester Research released a brief early this month estimating that 4.2 million people have 91 million pirated music files on their hard drives. "At $3 a song, this pirate music could be worth $273 million," says the report's author Jeremy Schwartz, Forrester analyst. Three dollars a song? Who would ever pay that much for a Christina Aguilera song? I recently bought another album online, a They Might Be Giants EP at Emusic.com (http://www.emusic.com) for about $7.99.

The problem isn't Napster. It hasn't been Napster for a while now. The problem is how prevalent the expectation of free music has become. What can stop that? Why pay $3 or $7.99 when I can find music for free on Napster? I could have easily waited a few days to see if those tracks I purchased on Emusic.com were available on Napster. The RIAA should have done something earlier to work with tech companies and not litigate against them.

When Napster loses its court case against the RIAA, I'll shed a tear. I can envision a day (in the very near future) when Napster allows only specific music or finds a way to "charge" users for downloads. Or maybe it will just disappear for good. How can something this good not be bad for you?

In the end, I know that something else will come along. It could be another tiny company, another nappy-haired kid writing cool code because he saw a need in the market and wrote software to fulfill that need. Or maybe things like Scour Exchange, Gnutella or something new will come forward.

Theft finds a way. And so do innovative products.

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