Artists take sides in the heated debate over the Internet's music trading post


Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


Most of us learn at an early age two basic rules about property: Sharing is good, and stealing is wrong.

But now Napster is twisting those rules beyond recognition and causing a heated debate among artists over the difference between online music distribution - "sharing" - and all-out theft.

The wildly popular Internet service allows you to download digital-quality songs - or entire albums - in MP3 format from the computer files of anyone who's signed on to www.napster.com at the same time you are. Napster's proponents, like Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, applaud it as a democratic trading post where people can listen to new music outside the Big Brotherly reach of the major record companies.

"I look at Napster as just being a new version of radio. This is like the power going back to the people," Chuck D said recently on The Charlie Rose Show during a verbal sparring match with anti-Napster crusader Lars Ulrich of Metallica.

"We could care less about the older generation's need to do business as usual," says Limp Bizkit leader Fred Durst, writing on the group's Web site. "We care about what our fans want, and our fans want music on the Internet."

Mr. Durst and Chuck D speak for a whole new generation of music fans who are thrilled they can download, say, the latest Eminem or Dixie Chicks CD for free instead of having to pay $16 for it. But these pro-Napster artists are seen as pariahs in a musical community which, for the most part, regards Napster as a massive threat.

Dr. Dre and Metallica, for example, have filed separate lawsuits to try to shut down the San Mateo, Calif.-based firm. Both cases are pending. Meanwhile, countless musicians are openly attacking Napster.

"If it comes to its full conclusion, it'll turn the music industry into a place where musicians can no longer actually earn a living," says Roger Daltrey of the Who.

Like most musicians, the members of the Who actually embrace the idea of distributing music on the 'Net: When it came time to put out its new live album, The Blues to the Bush, the British group bypassed traditional record companies and released the disc solely on the Internet via Musicmaker.com.

But there's a huge difference between selling your music on a Web site and helplessly watching as fans download it free of charge via Napster, Mr. Daltrey says.

"Downloading complete albums is theft," the singer says. "And the ramifications are quite dire. In the end, it's going to stop creativity."

Don Henley agrees. The Dallas-based former Eagle can be seen in TV ads singing the praises of Sonicnet.com - a site that includes an Internet radio service - yet he adamantly opposes people downloading music on Napster.

"Because of Napster, artists are in danger of losing our basic rights to our intellectual property," he says. "And what makes Napster so dangerous is it's on such a grand scale."

The singer is trying to form a coalition of musicians to address Congress about Napster and other artists'-rights issues. But rallying musicians to stand up for their rights is an uphill battle, he says.

"It's ironic that the artistic community has been able to organize on any number of causes - the environment, anti-nukes, hunger and homelessness - but we haven't done a damn thing for ourselves," Mr. Henley says.

"Artists have always been an incredibly naive bunch. They've been screwed by record companies since day one ... and they still don't pay attention to business," he says.

Napster foe Andy Partridge of the British band XTC admits he used to be ignorant about the money end of the music business. But now - after years of watching record labels siphon the profits from XTC's albums - he's in no rush to give away his music on Napster.

"[Napster] really rankles me because we spent 20 years before we made a profit on the sale of our discs. So to think people are taking our music for free really hurts," Mr. Partridge says.

"I'm not rich. I live in a little terraced house and I'm trying to save up some money, but it's difficult. ... Since we don't tour, we don't make money through tickets and T-shirts, so when these people steal our music [on Napster], it does hurt us.

"Maybe it wouldn't worry me as much if I was as rich as Sting," Mr. Partridge adds.

Like Sting, Mr. Henley is a millionaire many times over. But he dismisses the argument that rich rock stars should be content to see their recordings passed around for free on Napster.

"It's an insult to me, because it implies that this isn't a real job. This is my career, my livelihood," he says.

"I don't care if you're a poor, struggling recording artist or a successful, wealthy recording artist. Stealing is still stealing."

His complaints probably fall under what Mr. Durst mockingly dismisses as "the older generation's need to do business as usual." But as Mr. Henley points out, "It's easy for Fred Durst to say Napster should exist, because Napster is giving him 2 million dollars," referring to the Napster-sponsored Limp Bizkit tour, which includes free shows July 22-23 at the Bronco Bowl.

So far, the great unknown factor in the Napster debate is whetherit will actually cause CD sales to drop. Napster's advocates claim most people who use the service simply download a song or two and, if they like what they hear, go out and buy the entire CD.

Even some of Napster's detractors wonder if the service poses any more of a threat than home-taping - the illegal, decades-old practice of transferring a friend'sLP or CD to a cassette tape.

"I'm pretty much against Napster, but is it any different than just taping the album off friends?" asks singer Juliana Hatfield. "And aren't most fans really going to want to [buy] the whole package so they can get all the artwork?"

Statistics give conflicting answers. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center reported that only 2 percent of Internet users actually pay for downloadable music, but that 13 million people are downloading music for free from the Internet. Yet according to Soundscan, music sales during the first three months of 2000 were up 12 percent.

With confusing statistics like those, it's easy to see why a lot of musicians are waffling on the subject of Napster.

"I can really see the argument from both sides," says No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani. "It's a great way for people to hear the music, and I get excited about the idea that a 12-year-old kid can download the new No Doubt single before the album even comes out, and then they already know the song when we play it in concert.

"But on the other side, if it wasn't for the financial and commercial success of our last album, I wouldn't still be in the band. ... If we don't make money from our albums, we'd have to go finish college and get a job just like anyone else."