Back in the puke-covered, slashed shirt, angry 1970s, I was a spitty, spotty punk. And if I had come across an easy, quick and cool way to copy a vast range of music for free, I would have done it.
Most sane, normal people did, of course. First-generation punks made full use of the ability to tape music on low-tech audio cassettes. Everyone swapped tapes, and many still do. Who hasn't got a box full of old tapes stashed away somewhere, complete with crawly, spidery teenage track listings betraying their warped taste in music?
It's all part of our common cultural inheritance. But did any one of us ever dutifully write to music publishers or the Performing Rights Society offering them a polite and lawful payment for the right to tape as the law declares you should? I doubt it somehow.
So what's so different now? Well, Shaun Fanning, an 18 year-old American computer geek and music freak, made headlines around the world last year by setting up the Napster pop music website.
Napster enabled music fans, no matter where they were located, to swap and share the music files of their favourite bands that had been compressed using the MP3 file format. The website has now become immensely popular, and only one year on from launch, it is estimated to have as many as 20 million users, who have, perhaps, a million tracks to choose from.
MP3 is an effective - yet imperfect - compression standard that is able to squeeze a track down to about a tenth of its former size so that it can be quickly emailed, stored on a hard disc, burnt onto a CD using a home computer or played on a portable digital audio device.
So what's the problem? Surely it's no different to the taping that went on in the 1970s. Advocates of Napster say such copying has gone on for years and has created a legal precedent. Furthermore, it's also a great way for unknown bands to get an audience, they attest.
In the 1970s and 1980s, industry bigwigs did little to clamp down on illegal taping. Sure, market stalls were raided, bootleg tapes were taken away from maverick traders and the hopelessly ineffective 'Stop Home Taping' marketing campaign filled the pages of the music mags. But nobody suggested tracking down each individual home taper and confiscating cassettes and hi-fi equipment.
But here in the 21st century the music industry has got serious. According to the New Musical Express (NME), Napster "scares the bejesus out of the music industry".
It has now found ways to track individual transgressors and is using the law to force websites such as Napster's to reveal individual user identification codes. The industry claims that Napster customers are making the sales graphs plunge downwards and that not only are profits being eroded, but music fans will lose out in the end.
So the companies, publishers and even artists themselves are calling for music fans to be prosecuted, computer equipment to be seized and users banned from visiting certain music sharing websites. Not really very rock 'n' roll, is it?
And this has led to lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic firing broadsides at Napster, MP3.com, universities (where Napster is really popular) and individual fans.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was the first to fire the legal shots by suing Napster on the grounds that the site "enables copyright violation by facilitating the easy exchange of music".
The members of veteran heavy metal band Metallica were among the first musicians to stick their heads above the parapet and complain about the nefarious activities of Napster users. Unlike other top names, such as Elton John, Madonna and Eminem, Metallica even backed up its complaints with a heavy metal lawsuit against Fanning's site claiming millions of dollars in damages and lost royalties.
Napster's initial defence was that it was protected from prosecution by US laws which stipulate that internet service providers (ISPs) are not legally responsible for the potentially illicit activities of individual users of their service.
But Napster was forced to back down and ban 300,000 users identified by Metallica, and a further 230,000 who had downloaded tracks by US rap artist Dr. Dre.
After months of legal action, the case is now about to appear before the US Court of Appeal.
But the RIAA also sued MP3.com. The company's My.MP3com website hosts music tracks remotely and provides users with free downloads. By the summer, MP3.com and the industry had started making conciliatory noises and the website supplier had started talking about licensing tracks from record companies to put itself on the right side of the law.
But now the clampdown is biting hard. US colleges, and universities such as Harvard and Yale, are banning student access to Napster, and in the UK last week, several universities followed suit.
The ante was upped even more, however, when reports emerged that the authorities at Oklahoma State University had confiscated a student's computer. The unfortunate fresher is believed to have been shopped by the RIAA.
Investigators detected the student's activities online and when they homed in, alleged that he was burning music CDs to distribute to other people. This has yet to be proved, but the fan in question did have a rather impressive 105Gb hard drive on his PC - enough to hold about 10,000 MP3 tracks.
But can such prohibition work? Reading the pages of the NME, you'll find a lot of support for the MP3 movement. Former editor Steve Sutherland recently took part in a TV programme and referred to the Napster phenomenon as "a truly revolutionary situation". He described it as a genuinely popular movement that, for once, gives music fans a chance to bypass the immensely rich corporations that control the business.
So will people power win? Last week, two US bands circumvented the chain stores and the industry by releasing new albums for free on the internet as MP3 files. Smashing Pumpkins put out Machina II and The Offspring, from Southern California, released Conspiracy of One.
Both bands encouraged fans to pass the album on to friends for free, the aim being to thank them for their support. The Offspring are MP3 pioneers, having first released music on the web back in 1998.
So MP3 file sharing would appear to be turning into a genie that may be very difficult for the industry to stuff back into the bottle. Even if Napster is successfully shackled or shut down altogether, there is no shortage of alternative players ready to jump into the void.
Gnutella is one such site and is designed to be lawyer proof - it has no central server, does not charge users anything and guarantees anonymity. The aim is to create self-perpetuating networks of users, with no identifiable host for the authorities to locate.
And some of the industry's biggest acts have voiced their support for the technology. Prince has weighed in on the side of Napster, as have Chuck D, Blur, Courtney Love and Radiohead. Tracks from Radiohead's forthcoming Kid A album are already hot items to swap on the web.
On his personal website, Prince, who has had unhappy dealings with record companies ever since he burst onto the scene in the 1980s, has posted a message which reads: "The fundamental hypocrisy of the industry and some of the artists is that they talk about copyright, intellectual property and other such noble concepts, when the only thing they are actually trying to protect is the commercial value of their musical product.
"What record companies don't really understand is that Napster is just one illustration of the growing frustration over how much the record companies control what music the people get to hear. The record shops and airwaves are becoming increasingly dominated by musical products to the detriment of real music."
As a result of all this, NME is now describing the situation as "civil war". It claims that the pop music industry is fragmenting as people with different ideologies follow different courses. The rich, successful and more conservative artists, it believes, are siding with the industry suits, while true creatives are siding with Napster.
So, just like the unpredictable popular revolutions that took place in eastern Europe around 1989 and 1990, it seems that people power, not legal curbs, will dictate the shape of the music industry as it evolves. And Napster appears to be flying the flag for an unstoppable wave of technological change.
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