Musicians confront Napster in Congress

Musicians confront Napster in Congress

The future of online music might just be in our hands – at least that’s what Napster hopes.

In a statement posted on the Napster Web site, creator Shawn Fanning asked users to attend Tuesday’s Congressional hearings to show their support for online music sharing. As a form of gratitude, the Internet song-swapping service said it would hand out to attendees T-shirts and tickets to a Dispatch concert on Tuesday at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Fanning said he hoped the show of support from Napster users would signal to Congress the importance of not allowing the recording industry to shut down music file sharing.

The hearing, dubbed “Online Entertainment: Coming Soon to a Digital Device Near You,” brought together music industry figures such as Don Henley, Ted Nugent, Napster CEO Hank Barry, CEO Michael Robertson and Recording Industry Association of America President and CEO Hilary Rosen.

Barry stood before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to represent more than 60 million Napster users. The case against Napster narrowed down to one simple question: What does it take to make music on the Internet a fair and profitable business?

Online music should be run similarly to music allowed on the radio, Barry said. According to the BBC, many music companies are coming up with the same format of music trading. AOL, RealNetworks, Bertelsmann, and EMI said Monday that they are backing MusicNet, a subscription-based music web service that will charge users a fee to download songs.

Two years ago, Bertelsmann and EMI joined various record labels in a copyright infringement suit that accused Napster of copyright privacy. On March 5, a U.S. District court issued an injunction ordering Napster to block copyrighted songs identified by record companies.

The best way to compensate artists is through compulsory licenses, Henley said.

“There’s a pingpong game going on across our heads” between the music industry and technology companies like Napster,” Reuters quoted Henley as saying.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch told Rolling Stone magazine that “artists must be compensated for their creativity.”

“And I believe that Napster, as it currently operates, threatens that principle,” Hatch said.

Napster said in its defense that it wants artists and songwriters to be paid. Musicians, record companies and music fans all agree that this is the most innovative technique to spread music, but everyone is watching their back.

Other musicians, including Nugent, Courtney Love and members of Metallica, have voiced their opinions on Napster.

Love wrote a letter asking musicians to stand up for their rights in recording contracts. Last month, Love countersued her record label, the Universal Music Group, to void pending contractual obligations. Universal Music Group sued Love in January 2000, accusing the Hole lead singer of backing out of her contract before delivering all the albums she owes.

She also said she wants to form a musicians union to protect their interests. She asked fellow musicians to join forces to get a fair deal from record companies.

Excerpts of her letter featured in Undercover, an Australian music Web site, Love stated: “Record companies keep almost all the profits. Recording artists get paid a tiny fraction of the money earned by their music.”

Record companies advance money for recording and marketing costs, but they end up keeping most of the money and copyrights, she wrote. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) is paid for by record companies to represent their interests.

Prince has embraced the controversial Internet song-swapping service as a means of promotion.

Prince plans to premiere on Friday a new song, “The Work – Pt. 1”, on Napster, according to the Express Music News Web site. The song is slated for release later this year on his forthcoming album, The Rainbow Children. Users downloading the song will be offered a link to Prince’s music subscription service.

“What record companies don’t really understand is Napster is just one illustration of the growing frustration over how much the record companies control what music people get to hear,” Prince said in a statement, according to

Fanning was delighted that an icon such as Prince is willing to share his music through an online service.

“Prince is truly a visionary,” Fanning said. “I’m honored he is working with Napster to promote his music.”