You say you want an Internet music revolution? Too late 

You've got to hand it to the recording industry. Just when you thought they were on the ropes -- that, thanks to free-dealing Web programs such as Napster, music distribution might change forever, that musicians might finally get their long-deserved bigger piece of the pie -- the bigwig labels showed they were just playing possum. Now they're readying for the knockout. Not only did they sue Napster, claiming copyright infringement and sending a threatening message to every Napster wannabe, they reaped the benefits the file-sharing program undoubtedly offered.

Take Capitol Records. Three weeks before Radiohead's highly-anticipated Kid A hit the streets in October, the entire CD found its way onto the Internet, for free. And guess what? Kid A hit No. 1 on the U.S. album charts its first week out -- rare for any album, but unheard of for such an unconventional record. Call me crazy, but doesn't that offer evidence that Internet music freebies promote the sale of CDs, rather than infringe upon their copyrights? Capitol seemed savvy enough to understand this. And when Capitol officials were questioned about their position on Napster, they said they couldn't comment "pending litigation."

Meanwhile, the fight against Napster has put the brakes on the Internet music revolution. For one thing, Napster has already backed down from its formerly renegade stance, forming alliances with major record corporations.

This happened partly because artists didn't understand Napster's possibilities. Metallica dude and Mr. Anti-Napster Lars Ullrich, for instance, didn't see the potential to create a new market where record labels were actually having to deal with real competition. Imagine this could've been the future of Internet music: Metallica records an album and downloads it from their studio PC to Napster. By this time, as labels struggle against Internet businesses, Napster is playing distributor, but taking a much smaller fee than the labels took. Metallica keeps control of its copyrights and makes lots of money. It's called having cake and eating it too.

But that ain't gonna happen, is it Lars? You couldn't wait. You had to get your two cents now. And because the labels are on your side against Napster, guess where any Internet earnings will go first? The labels (and, if they're lucky, Napster). Guess what that gives them? Internet power. Guess where that leaves lowly musicians? In the same, sorry negotiating spot you were before the Internet came along. Brilliant!

And the greatest insult of all -- the punch in the face to consumers and artists alike -- comes from the labels like Capitol, who have shown they were willing to give away music for free all along. Like radio, free music often is the best way to sell music. Guess we'll have to wait until the next revolution.


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