A crowd of mostly college-age students attended a forum on file-sharing sponsored by online music distributor Napster Monday night downtown to listen to a panel of speakers and offer what one crowd member called “more comments than questions.”
Among the forum’s speakers were Napster creator Shawn Fanning, rap artist Chuck D and GW alumnus Mark Kates, former president of Grand Royal Records. Kates received boisterous applause from the large number of GW students present.
The forum was a precursor to the Tuesday morning rally organized by Napster at the Dirksen Senate Building, where a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the fate of online music distributors took place. Fliers posted on GW’s campus offered free T-shirts and Dispatch concert tickets to the first 1,000 people who attended the forum.
During the forum’s extensive question and answer period, Chuck D criticized the assertion of artists’ rights by record labels as a “baby-shield” used to protect “a few corporations.”
Kates, a former record executive, chastised record labels, saying “the conventional labels have not embraced (Napster) to a large degree. I think that they’ve had too much time now to address the situation, with really no results.”
Kates thanked Napster for moving to a pay service that will allow them to co-exist with big record companies.
“I think it’s up to the business to address that and to try and tap into this (online) audience who clearly is asking for music 24 hours a day all over the world,” he said.
A representative from Napster said users would be receptive to a subscription-based service.
“A majority of Napster users we’ve surveyed want to see artists get paid,” Napster Vice President Manus Cooney said. “It’s not about getting music for free indefinitely.”
Among other plans, Napster advocates a policy of “compulsory license,” similar to what allows radio stations to play copyrighted songs.
Napster officials said that although the Record Industry Association of America claims it wants to grant licenses to online music companies, it has not yet granted full licensing rights to any company. Napster officials said they have offered record companies $1 billion over five years to license RIAA music catalogs, but have been repeatedly denied the opportunity.
Napster CEO Hank Barry, along with recording artists Don Henley and Alanis Morrisette, testified at the Senate Judiciary hearing Tuesday morning on Napster’s behalf.
“(It’s) ironic that one of the senators made the point that in 1992 the industry said that (recordable) cassettes would destroy the industry, which didn’t happen,” said freshman Justin Cohen, who attended the hearing. “When the president of the RIAA got up to testify, he said the same thing about mp3’s that he said in 1992 about cassettes.”