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Napster

While Scour and mp3.com were in their way relatively high-profile news, neither caught the Zeitgeist of the issue more than Napster. Still to this day most people have heard of the Napster case.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, Sean Parker - a key partner at the founding stages of Napster - went on to become president of Facebook, and his ongoing presence in the IT world has continued way beyond Napster.

Second, Napster burned extremely brightly. The adverse, unintended consequence of the RIAA's suit against Napster was that it was extremely divisive, with arguments about individual rights facing directly up to corporate interests. Everyone had a view. The news media picked up on the story globally. While this was a lot of heat for those involved, it also promoted Napster to a global market. It exploded. Everyone downloaded it, and then software engineers cloned it or reverse-engineered it and released myriad me-too versions, fully decentraliZed and unstoppable without fundamentally changing Internet governance.

This caused a huge swelling tide of illegal file sharers. Mums, Dads, kids, and grandparents all joined in, confident that the probability of being made an example of as a pirate was rather nonexistent. By the time Napster essentially collapsed in on itself, file sharing was the norm for Internet users, and I remember many ISP conferences I attended or spoke at where the topic of the day was “nearly half our traffic is P2P.” Today, that is changed to “nearly half our traffic is video,” with a surprising amount of that being premium or “legally distributed” content.

There is no doubt from both Napster and Netflix that the consumer wants easy access. That is the most valuable thing. The key demarcation for success, though, is keeping the rights owners on their side.

It is often said that “content is king.” My own take is that the “audience is king” and that the “content rights owners are law” - we in the distribution sector are something of the king makers - with the ability to create systems that ignore or satisfy the king, and run circles around the law, or indeed comply with the law regardless of what the king wants. Ultimately, where we find success together, the three will end up in a moving consensus.

 
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