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Sonic Boom: Napster, P2P and the Battle for the Future of Music

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2018
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If you want to understand the rising importance of trademarks and the sinking importance of copyright, just talk to William R. Bradley, a partner with Glankler Brown, the Memphis law firm that represents Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., which was created by the late singer’s estate to make money from his intellectual property. “The Net poses a real challenge to copyright,” Bradley says. “The rights to protect against unauthorized reproduction are simply too hard to enforce. You’ll be chasing everybody.”

To better protect and serve Elvis, the estate in recent years has been on a trademark tear. It first trademarked the name Elvis Presley and his Graceland mansion in the mid-1980s. Then the company moved to trademark Elvis’s hit songs, even though Elvis didn’t actually write any of them. In the mid-1990s, the company trademarked “Heartbreak Hotel” for a licensed restaurant chain, then for use on pants, shorts, shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, hats, and socks, and then on shot glasses, martini glasses, goblets, and tumblers. Turns out, there is money to be made in such officially licensed stuff.

So now, the estate is moving to trademark “All Shook Up” for use on key chains, cigarette lighters, Christmas tree ornaments, float pens, and snow globes. Also in the works are “Love Me Tender” spoons, bumper stickers, and golf balls, as well as trademarks for merchandise bearing the marks “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Jail-house Rock,” and of course “Blue Suede Shoes,” which alas may eventually be used to brand everything except navy leather footwear.

All this has symbolic significance because copyright law affords no protection whatsoever to song titles, album titles, book titles, or movie titles. Remember, a copyright simply protects a unique expression. I can release an album tomorrow called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I can market a movie called Gone with the Wind. I can publish a book called Harry Potter. And I can record a song called “Margaritaville.” As long as I’m not copying someone else’s unique expression, no one can stop me. However, if I wanted to make Sgt. Pepper’s cocktail sauce, Gone with the Wind foot powder, a Harry Potter magic wand, or “Margaritaville” brand tequila, I may encounter some serious legal turbulence.

More importantly, if I wanted to advertise my performance services—give a Harry Potter reading or a Sgt. Pepper’s concert—I’d probably also encounter some legal roadblocks. This is how trademarks can work to protect copyrights and extract additional value from them. And this is why trademarks are so important to artists, writers, musicians, and other producers of intellectual property, even though most are only now coming to realize this. Sgt. Pepper’s was never trademarked by the Beatles, but Harry Potter is vigorously trademarked in several categories of goods and services. And Jimmy Buffett is already kicking back and collecting royalties from officially licensed tequila. Nowadays, trademarks are simply much easier to enforce than are copyrights.

Once you begin to feel the power of trademarks, you’ll see that something like Napster can actually help generate income. If you’re an artist whose intellectual property is being swapped around for free online, then every download can potentially enhance the awareness of your trademarks, including your name and the titles of your works. This is precisely why so many unestablished artists are fully supportive of Napster. They know that any increased awareness of their songs might lead to interest not only in purchasing their CDs but in their trademarked performance services, their brand.

A former Grateful Dead lyricist, John Perry Barlow, likes to say that intellectual property is a misnomer, that it’s not really property at all, but should be thought of more as an intellectual relationship between the artist and the audience. As a writer, I don’t think I’d go so far as to renounce all of my property rights. But I do believe strongly in the relationship thing. And I believe the two can coexist.

And so John Alderman’s book couldn’t have arrived at a better time. In addition to being a great story in itself, Sonic Boom details the new rebellion in rock, defines the raging conflicts posed by new technology, and points the way toward striking a new balance between property and relationships. Hopefully, established artists will be able to adapt to this new music environment. The up-and-coming ones already seem to be well on their way. Those blokes from Devon, wherever they may be right now, are recording and have already played at their local Cavern Club. Maybe they’ll even make it to the original one—in Liverpool.

PREFACE (#ulink_388a6173-5818-51e8-8a0f-d8e3ce639405)

BY HERBIE HANCOCK

I’m deeply concerned about the outcome of the online music conflict, and with good reason: playing music happens to be my livelihood. Now the Internet comes along and offers not only wonderful promise and incredibly seductive dangers, but it also is helping to inflame long-running conflicts within the current music distribution system. Sonic Boom documents both the possibilities and the pitfalls, as it points to the tough choices facing all sides of online music players. Like others in my profession, I make the best music I can, drawing from experience, years of practice, and plenty of dues paid. In return, audiences seek out and listen to my recordings or attend live performances, mostly paying for the privilege. In the middle of that relationship stands the record company, hopefully making sure that listeners get a chance to hear me, so that I am able to continue my career doing what I love.

For the hard work involved in being a middleman, the label is certainly entitled to a decent profit. But not a killing. To make huge amounts of money on the backs of artists who are not fairly compensated sours the relationship and creates bad will that lasts a long time. Believe me, I’m not happy about the business model that the record companies have been running until now. They have proven again and again that they are far from angels, far from having even a casual interest in giving artists and songwriters a fair share. They have been ripping off artists, writers, and the public for close to a century, to the point where I can honestly say I don’t trust them at all. Knowing what they do about past bad faith makes artists bristle when the industry says it’s just trying to “defend artists’ rights.” Who wouldn’t resent being used as a pawn this way?

Napster, on the other hand, is no solution. So far, it’s even worse than the labels. On the way to making millions for its owners and investors, Napster has yet to give anything to artists other than the chance to spread their music, for free, and whether they like it or not. Its supporters hide behind claims that labels misuse artists and consumers, as if that entitled them to take everything they want absolutely free. Excuse me, but just because record executives give artists a bad deal doesn’t mean that everyone else can then go and do worse. Although the appeal to consumers is obvious—who wouldn’t want free music?—the law, and common morality, forbids stealing. I’m not afraid of technology, and I hope that a system can be worked out that enables consumers that would also reward artists. Maybe this is even the beginning of what might grow into something great. I’m still a little worried. Looking at the past behavior on either side of RIAA vs. Napster makes it hard to get behind any new industry plans for the future.

I understand that the RIAA’s idea is to shut Napster down, or force them into legitimate business deals, such as Bertelsmann has proposed. What I’d like to know is what these deals will mean for musicians, singers, and songwriters—the people without whom there would be nothing to fight over, nothing for these multinational companies to make money from, and nothing for music lovers to enjoy. I’d feel like a fool if Napster were shut down or forced into a deal, and the courts gave millions to the record companies but the artists received zilch.

If the RIAA gets some kind of injunction or other legal action supported by the courts that will allow the artists and writers to have a choice regarding how their music is distributed on the Net, then that is a great and positive step. If there is a great deal of money to go to the record companies and the RIAA has no idea how those labels will compensate artists, then a big gaping hole is left to fester. Who represents artists in this picture? So far, it seems like no one.

INTRODUCTION (#ulink_2cc52624-8fa1-5e72-adf9-41e31edbd8e7)

The advent of the Internet has been a relentless series of wrenching headaches and embarrassing mistakes for the music industry. It has also allowed unprecedented worldwide distribution of music and unparalleled communication among fans and musicians—unambiguous blessings for music itself. But such success is still set against the backdrop of an industry struggling to maintain control and remain relevant. Over the greater part of the last century, the entities that would come to be the big five record labels—Warner, Universal, BMG, Sony, and EMI—crafted elaborate distribution pipelines to generate and safeguard hefty revenue by combining street smarts, cultural savvy, tough-guy tricks, and crafty legal maneuvering with keenly developed business sense. It’s only recently that they were settling into the more regular life of multinational corporations. Now these companies and a few others confront the greatest challenge of their history. They find themselves in an environment in which their chief commodity is not just easily converted into digital code—ripe for limitless copying and dissemination—but also is spread via a worldwide network that dwarfs anything that came before it. While innovators speculate about the benefits to human progress a free-flowing pipeline of information brings, the music industry has plenty of reservations: It was banking on its control of songs that have now become seductive little packets of freely traded digits.

Visit a college campus almost anywhere in America, and you’re sure to find two things: computer networks with high-speed, high-bandwidth Internet connections, and music fans who have amassed large collections of music without ever buying tapes, CDs, or records. Instead of trips to the record store, many simply download the songs they want from a school network, or hook up with fans elsewhere, trading songs with Napster or its many clones. Go to a record company in Manhattan or Los Angeles, and you’re likely to find two things: executives with great resistance to technological change and someone in the IT department who avidly follows online developments and may have even accumulated a collection of MP3s. This situation seems so pervasive that it has replaced the old stereotype of the A&R staff asking the mailroom clerk for tips about which new bands are hip.

The big-record-label-dominated music business that developed in the last century is now under assault by successive waves of young techies such as Napster’s Shawn Fanning and Gnutella creator Justin Frankel and their tsunami of followers. These arbiters of innovation share several traits, namely technical ingenuity and priorities that fall polar opposite to traditional business. A half decade ago, when the Web was in its infancy, it was popular to say that programmers were the new rock stars. Despite a few renegade cyberpunk coders sporting leather pants and mirrored sunglasses, the notion quickly faded as the reality of a high-tech workforce became more mundane. But looking at the innovation and bravado of the young people who have brought such a dramatic crisis to the music business, it’s easy to see some truth in the old statement, particularly when these visionaries are contrasted with the current crop of top-selling artists. The challenge to the old guard that the young coders present seems more fundamentally unsettling than most rock and roll these days, and their rebellion seems more genuine and more compelling than the packaged and exaggerated posing of record industry poster boys.

Technology brings power, and the level of technology now in the hands of individuals will present challenges to everyone with a vested interest in the status quo. In response to those challenges, government and corporations may overstep acceptable boundaries and seek to infringe on the rights of individuals whose protections as citizens should come before their roles as consumers. Music distribution on the Internet is interesting because it is showing, to anyone paying attention, how things might progress in many other industries, particularly those with a product that can be digitized. That the MP3 format is a subset of a standard meant for the compression of movies is a glaring clue as to the next big industry likely to be touched by the mercurial hand of the Net.

The music industry has a long history of legal skirmishes with the inventors and builders of new music players. The audiocassette and digital audio tape (DAT) are two recent examples that seemed to work out advantageously for the music business. In the 1980s, when cassette tapes were the latest threat to copyright holders, legislators granted music labels a portion of every sale of blank tapes. The industry later that same decade worked to kill DAT as a consumer format with threats of lawsuits. Digital tape was able to record at higher fidelity than CDs and wouldn’t degrade with each generation, so it was feared as the perfect medium for bootlegging. But because of high cost resulting from fewer machines, demand for DAT never spread much beyond dedicated concert tapers and musicians.

With the right software, personal computers are now able to do anything that DAT players can, and they have proven very hard to regulate. Software and hardware makers have the economic and growing political power to compete with the music industry, so they’ve been able to stave off most of the industry’s legal assaults. But when the makers of new technologies are only sometimes corporations—and are often just a kid in a dorm—the equation changes remarkably. Because new players, and new methods of distributing what’s played, exist as code, manufacturing and retailing are un-needed. That leaves ample room to innovate without some of the traditional business, financial, and legal obstacles (and without their protections). A good new product, especially if the creator is not so interested in remuneration, could be released in one day, and by the next week there might be a million copies in circulation worldwide. The MP3 world is filled with software that has been distributed in such a way. On the music side, legally or not, a popular song follows the same lightning path. Bootlegged songs from Radiohead’s Kid A were downloaded by millions of Net users before the album was officially released. Smashing Pumpkins broke with its label, Virgin, and gave away the group’s final album for free distribution on the Net. It met a similarly massive response.

The groundbreaking ability of people across the planet to freely share information is changing the world and our culture, and this presents a scary prospect for those hoping to make money in exchange for the time and resources invested in producing and marketing to that culture. If a band and its producer are accustomed to spending a year and several hundred thousand dollars recording and touring to promote a record, it’s easy to see how they might fear the new ability of anyone to send a copy of whatever they like, for free. Unlike illusionary changes in styles and personae, or even corporate acquisitions and mergers, this fundamental shift changes even the form that music takes. Digital distribution means that music is no longer tied to an object such as a record, tape, or CD, but becomes, as it is being shared and consumed, something more ethereal. Depending on how you look at it, in the online world, music has been either stripped or liberated from its body; only its soul remains, its digital code. If a record company has spent millions to develop and control the works of musicians, banking on their value as consumer goods—marketable, singular objects—company officials might be shocked to discover what they hope to sell and control has become pure information, flowing freely around the globe.

While the record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) dominate media reports and courtroom dramas, musicians themselves have been polarized by online music. Metallica’s Lars Ulrich raged against online traders. But archly anti-establishment bands like the English Chumbawamba have seized the moment to air long-standing grievances: Despite their high-minded talk, most record companies “wouldn’t recognise art or artistic integrity if it bounded over and bit them on the arse,” Chumbawamba vocalist Dunstan Bruce said on his band’s Web site. “The real truth is that record companies have been screwing the public for years and they’re now terrified that they might lose the odd dollar here and there.” Nor is it simply the outsiders or the more usual publicity seekers like Courtney Love who have found something to say. Elton John struck a tone similar to Love’s anger at the industry at a press conference. The Who’s Pete Townshend (also using his own Web site to send a message) wrote that the first thing that struck him when he went online with Napster and found “such a lot of stuff” when he searched on his name was “hooray—at last I might as well say fuck BMI.”

If it looked as if the labels were paralyzed by a financial interest in the status quo and were ignoring a larger, developing picture, other businessmen followed the money to seek common ground with Napster, the most feared, most popular of the online predators. Just as urgently as most music industry executives sought to kill their online adversaries, or at least subdue them as they did the cassette tape, other business leaders were stalking something much bigger. For a mere $50 million, the same amount he invested in 1994 when he struck gold with a budding AOL, Bertelsmann’s Thomas Middelhoff helped out an embattled Napster, hoping to buy into the future. Going over the head of its music division to cut a deal with the global Napster phenomenon, can Bertelsmann find a way to make the new world work for the suits as well as the pirates? As youngsters come home from college infecting their families with the joy of instant, unfiltered access to all the songs they can remember, turning back the clock not only becomes virtually impossible, taking away the music sounds to almost everyone like a really bad idea. This book is about the battle for that cultural soul that is being fought by college students, entrepreneurs, lawyers, moguls, programmers, and of course, by musicians themselves.

Chapter 1 WAVE OF CHANGE (#ulink_64cfa656-c6fd-5f82-b2b9-c4d85a1f06b7)

On the sunny afternoon of May 3, 2000, a mixed crowd of techies, music fans, and reporters began to assemble in front of an uninspiring beige building on a street corner in San Mateo, California. The city, one of several businesslike and nearly identical adjacent burgs, was set in the middle of the giant, remarkably expensive sprawl of asphalt, hills, and vegetation stretching from wind-chilled San Francisco in the north to the warmer Silicon Valley in the south. Gathering demonstrators, mostly white, middle class, and in their twenties or thirties, locked their cars outside of the well-tended apartment buildings that lined the street. Parking, the last-minute foil to many would-be demonstrations, was easily found, and the gathered forces seemed to be in good spirits, striking up amiable chats as they walked towards the excitement. A visitor might be struck with the reality of many California stereotypes playing themselves out. It was warm with a pleasant breeze, flowering plants and trees spread a soothing fragrance, and it was difficult to erase the feeling that this street was an interchangeable set; even the protest felt oddly ready-made, like the anonymous blocks that passed for a downtown nearby. It was one of those moments that felt like an intermission, when personalities and social forces came together in the flesh, outside of the more controlled and familiar media where most people had come to know them.

Though the atmosphere grew increasingly frenetic as one approached the Napster offices, the mood of the attendees was mostly one of curiosity livened with the anticipation of spectacle. A few police cars stopped mid-street without pulling over; other vehicles slowed down as lunching office workers rubbernecked, and occasionally someone honked and shook his fist out the window, or displayed another gesture of support—though it was often unclear what was being supported. More than anything else, the air that day was full of mixed feelings. Metallica, one of the most respected and top-selling heavy metal bands of the 1980s and ’90s, was about to deliver a challenge to the spirit of manifest destiny that often seemed ingrained in the technologically savvy. Drummer Lars Ulrich and the band’s attorneys were about to drop off a list of over 300,000 names, taking Napster at its word that it would deny service to those who’d been spotted trading unauthorized songs.

The largest contingent of spectators that day were from the media, and by far the greatest animosity on display was from photographers jostling for good position, or reporters swarming around the few participants who actually started to say something. Five or so Napster supporters held up a long banner denouncing Metallica and the Recording Industry Association of America as “Master of Puppets,” the title of one of the band’s songs. Reps from other online music companies circled around the building in cars, slowing down to hand off their own branded freebies to an eager, antsy audience. Two young men who worked at a calendar publisher’s office in the same building as Napster had taken opposite sides of the debate and explained their positions to the gathered reporters who attentively jotted down their every pronouncement; for them it seemed great to take a break from routine, nice to have their opinions taken seriously. One explained that sharing music, even for free, helped artists in the long run by making them famous; the other insisted that Metallica alone had the right to decide what happened to its music. A musician named Marc Brown was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “I have sympathy in the sense that if a ton of money was at stake for me, I might act like this also. But, objectively, I don’t think that they deserve any sympathy.”

Soon a large black SUV pulled up, and while the crowd moved closer, Lars Ulrich and Howard King, his burly lawyer, stepped out and pushed through to the building. An associate wheeled a trolley containing a brown cardboard box, filled with reams of paper, the list of 335,435 names. Surrounded by a crowd near the entrance to the building, Ulrich turned and read a speech that was a rehash of statements he’d been making through his PR agents, about how Metallica didn’t approve of anyone trading Internet files of their music, and how Napster itself was responsible for theft. To the dismay of fame seekers, the midday glare diminished much of Ulrich’s glamour, and having a mass of lawyers around him didn’t look too rock and roll. He was only beginning what would become a personal crusade and was still a little fuzzy on some of the details. But, believing his band, and many others, were being wronged by the culture of trading that was so rapidly growing, he was determined to do his best to point out the injustice. The embodiment of rebel angst was having trouble shifting gears to righteous do-gooder, though. When asked about the consequences of his coming out as a spokesman for an industry perceived as being “the man,” Ulrich switched quickly from wounded artist to his more familiar role as devil-may-care rebel. “Metallica doesn’t give a fuck about anything. If it looks right for us we just go for it; we don’t worry about the consequences.”

Ulrich then turned and entered the building, his entourage and the cardboard box in tow, and went upstairs to an office described by other visitors as neatly segregated between young and old workers. He met with Napster representatives for about ten minutes. Ulrich’s mood seemed to lighten somewhat by the time he came out. He said that the sides “agreed to disagree” and appeared relieved that “there are actual humans inside.” The Metallica team sped away, and the remaining gawkers stood around aimlessly for a few quiet moments, as reporters rushed off to deliver their stories. Thus began Ulrich’s publicity campaign, which would be followed by online chats on Yahoo, by an interview with TV’s Charlie Rose, in counterpoint to Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and by a speech before a congressional hearing. Ulrich would be cheered and maligned, a visible target for the industry and fans.

Napster spokespersons dismissed the Metallica provocation as a “publicity stunt,” but agreed to suspend the service of the 335,435 users, who were identified by NetPD, a British consulting firm. “Of course,” said a Napster attorney, Laurence Pulgram, “if the band would provide the names in computerized form, rather than in tens of thousands of pages of paper intended to create a photo op, that would expedite the process.”

By all reports, Napster’s founder, Shawn Fanning, was ruffled at being the focus of negative attention from one of his heroes. “I’m a huge Metallica fan and therefore really sorry that they’re going in this direction,” said Fanning, in a statement. “Napster respects the role of artists and is very interested in working with Metallica and the music industry to develop a workable model that is fair to everyone while unleashing the power of the Internet to build enthusiasm for music.” From that moment forward, Fanning would appear frequently dressed in a Metallica T-shirt, most famously as a presenter at the MTV Music Awards, where Ulrich sat in the audience looking sick. It was difficult to say whether the Beavis and Butthead – like fashion statement was meant to be mocking or merely the honest expression of a fan laced with a little irony. Whatever the case, Ulrich made clear that, as far as he was concerned, being a Napster user and a Metallica fan were incompatible: on television and the Internet, he directly told fans who used Napster that the band didn’t want their types.

Like Metallica, everyone in music and the Internet seemed busy going for whatever they thought to be in their immediate interest, and they didn’t seem worried about the consequences. Heavy penalties loomed, like the threats of multimillion dollar entertainment business lawsuits. But the long arm of the law did little to stop the relentless boasts of computer whiz kids who believed that copyright would soon be rendered meaningless. And this was the public dialogue. On private mailing lists, the threats by either side were more graphic and more personal, including death threats, meant however jokingly. No one needed a reminder that the coming year would see more bile than ever.

How did the development of new technologies that supported a leisure time activity such as music reach this level of venom? And was all the confrontation—and all the lawyers—really necessary? Probably not. But because both computer developers and music industry lawyers had a history of getting what they wanted, the legal force and the adolescent aggression seemed inevitable.

The sleepy, beachside city of Santa Cruz, California, is known for several things: a good university with a reputation for intellectual adventure; a population of New-Agey free spirits; and a natural environment that seems to infuse a mellow hedonism in most of its inhabitants. While very typically Californian, the city feels like the polar opposite of Los Angeles: little crime, no frantic social climbing, and certainly not much in the way of an entertainment industry. In 1993, at least in as much as any event on the Web can be said to occur in one place, Santa Cruz became the birthplace of the online music phenomenon.

The wave of change that would see fans turning to the Internet for their tunes, and away from the distribution networks built by large entertainment corporations, began, as is so often the case, with a couple of bright collegiate misfits. Though they did very little research, not much coding, and developed no new ways to compress music, what they did was build a Web site that offered a new way for people to get music and for musicians to reach an audience.

The buzzing of Web activity gave the West Coast a portentous feeling that year. Nationally, the time was ripe for invention. While the Reagan era sometimes felt like a long backward glance, Bill Clinton and Al Gore had just begun an administration that at the very least embraced an optimistic, forward-looking vocabulary, spotlighting initiatives that pushed the new “information superhighway.” In the business world, offices that had never before even needed calculators were suddenly acquiring computers that sprawled over desktops to become the focus of a worker’s attention. News of the Internet was beginning to pique the interest of the public and the media. Wired magazine had launched its first issue, including an article about libraries replacing their books with digitized copies, an idea with obvious overlap in other media. The story wondered, “if someday in the future anybody can get an electronic copy of any book from a library free of charge, why should anyone ever set foot in a bookstore again?” The focus on print was predictable; text was much easier to send over low bandwidth, and the Net was built largely around words. Meanwhile, those with an interest in music were wondering what the Internet could do for them. About the same time Wired was launched, a pair of University of California Santa Cruz students hatched a plan to answer that question.

The pair doing the hatching were Jeff Patterson and Rob Lord, two friends who shared a love for music, as well as a distaste for the bland offerings of mainstream record labels. Patterson was a lanky, long-haired blond; Lord, olive-skinned and often seen wearing an amused, knowing smile. Before going away to school, Lord had been manager of a record store in his hometown of Valencia, California. Being the final link in the long chain of the music business was an experience that shaped his feeling towards the establishment. The narrow range of available product and the heavy-handed marketing of the industry put him off. His own preferences leaned towards college radio staples like the anguished cries of Joy Division or the lush and dreamy washes of sound made by Galaxy 500, as well as music from the burgeoning rave scene—distant cries from the mass-market records he usually sold.

“I was the stereotypical music store employee,” explained Lord, “saying things like ‘Barbra Streisand—you can’t listen to her, and you can’t kill her … Beep.’ Like any discerning music fan, you ended up selling all of this music that you wished people wouldn’t buy. I kept thinking to myself that if only there were a better way of getting better music distribution.”

Patterson was equally frustrated with the narrow range of musical choices readily available and was miffed by the few options open to musicians wanting to expose their works to a wider audience. He had firsthand experience in that regard and was hoping there might be a way for his band, The Ugly Mugs, to expose its music—songs with names like “Cold Turd on a Paper Plate”—to people who would appreciate it. Music like his wouldn’t be released by Warner or BMG, but would probably appeal to a larger audience than Santa Cruz slackers, if only the songs could get out there.

At school, Lord studied information theory and digital signal processing, fortuitously under the tutelage of David Huffman, whose Huffman encoding algorithm was popularly in use (it was, as it happened, a main component of the MP3 protocols). Lord also worked part-time as the computer consultant to the UC art department. His encounter with the newly developing Web was deeply affecting and he became gripped with a fervor to promulgate Web browsers to anyone within reach. Mosaic was the most popular browser available at the time. Freshly released by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, it featured a graphic user interface that made using it easy. Lord diligently installed copies of Mosaic on all of the department’s computers. The idea of a universal interface to data, combined with new audio compression and player technologies he was learning about under Huffman, sparked an epiphany in Lord, and he and Patterson began to brainstorm ideas about how to combine the two. A decent student, Lord was nonetheless not thrilled with school; he claims he wasn’t having enough fun and was hoping to find something that might combine his two passions: music and technology. That something would materialize one day as Lord trolled the Internet, searching for interesting ways to compress sound files (compressing the data in a music file was necessary to send it manageably over the Internet). He discovered the Xing Player, a piece of software that played musical files compressed using the MP2 algorithm. A quick download and a listen was all it took to hook Lord, and his life took a quick, profound turn. He became a cheerleader, what could even be called an evangelist, for online music. His e-mail signature line read “Free or Shareware Music, Internet Distribution of Music Will Change All,” with a link pointing everyone towards the Xing Player. Friends and acquaintances followed his suggestion, and years before Napster hit, Lord became a key figure in a clique that seemed to instinctively understand the power that Internet distribution held for music.

With ambitions to bring together as much music-related content as he could get his hands on, Lord opened an account at the popular public server Sunsite, which let him store his Web site for anyone to download. From there, inspired by revolutionary dreams and technological fervor, Lord and Patterson took the leap to launch one of the Web’s first start-up companies. Internet Underground Music Archive, or IUMA, was set up in a small office above a Santa Cruz gay bar. The Web start-up pattern was in full effect from day one: Lord and Patterson slept under their desks, and paid the wages of the few acting school dropouts they’d managed to recruit as employees by picking up a weekly burrito tab.

At first, IUMA was really two sites in one, one on the Web, which required greater computing power than many had in that day, and one that used “File Transfer Protocol” or FTP. The sites gave bands a place to tell the world about themselves and also to offer music for download. Much of the music IUMA hosted was initially sent in on cassette tape, leaving the encoding to the staff, for which the company charged a small fee. Anyone could pay $240 a year and post one song and band photos and offer merchandise for sale. It was a learning experience for all involved. It gave Lord, among other things, a lesson in the power of PR. Following the other now-familiar Web start-up pattern, the media was quick to pick up on IUMA’s high-tech buzz, and the newly minted executive quickly learned to fan the fires of publicity with revolutionary rhetoric.

“This is going to kill the music industry,” Lord proclaimed to the San Jose Mercury News in 1993. From the pages of the Silicon Valley daily newspaper, it was a quick jump to CNN and then the cover of Billboard. The music industry had a new and boisterous, if somewhat ill-defined and as yet naive, foil. Like a clever youngster testing limits, Lord and IUMA helped point the Internet generation at a new target against which it could gauge its growing strength. The music industry was a dinosaur that didn’t understand the promise of the Net and had stifled its own creativity through the pursuit of corporate profits. This unsteady new establishment wanted to take over.

IUMA promised to be the place where less overtly commercial bands could create Web pages and reach more diverse audiences, despite the high-tech threshold for Internet use. In 1993 (#litres_trial_promo), less than 3 percent of American classrooms were connected to the Net, compared to more than half in 2000. Even when traffic was minimal, music clips were being downloaded from as far away as Russia—an appealing prospect to bands unaccustomed to being heard outside their hometowns. Remember, at the time it was novel to make human contact of any kind using your computer; to have distant foreigners visit your Web site and listen to music you had just kicked out seemed very futuristic indeed. As the country, and the stock market, became obsessed with Internet technology, the pace picked up, and the breadth and speed of Internet delivery accelerated. In a 1994 issue of early cyber-culture magazine Mondo 2000, avant-garde musician Kenneth Newby interviewed Lord and Patterson and described IUMA as a “kind of digital club where the bands play for free, there’s no cover charge, and the owners are just happy that you came.”

This kind of description echoed popular expectations of the Web in general, raising a question that would haunt nearly everyone who had some creative, digitized product that they hoped to sell on the Web: How did the Internet develop into a giant playground where everyone expected things to be free? Once a piece of work was digitized, Web users seemed to instinctively feel that it was fair game for anyone who wanted to download it.

The recording industry seemed unconcerned with IUMA, and if it noticed at all, it was to take advantage of IUMA’s service, on a very small scale. The small, progressive, Warner-affiliated label 4AD Records, for example, had Web pages created for its bands. Other than that, music industry insiders simply made a note to have a talk with IUMA’s founders, to affirm that they were all interested in doing cool stuff.

As Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has put it, the code from which the Net is built is the law. Many of the expectations about online music are the legacy of builders themselves, and many beliefs are based on the structure of the networks. Those who built the Web (#litres_trial_promo), though a very diverse bunch, tended to share many similar goals. The Internet, of course, arose from the bowels of the Cold War infrastructure of military and education. It was a way of distributing research and military data using computer networks that spurted “packets” of information across multiple lines to be later reassembled into their original form at the final destination. The system, as developed at the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), promised a quick, if somewhat quirky method of communication that included not only the sharing of programs and data over great distance, but also radio messaging that would not break down due to jamming or geography.

For a research-oriented group, the ability to share data from around the country and around the world was the main interest. The likelihood of commercial rights holders asserting their claims was not much of a concern; in fact all commercial activity was officially off-limits on the Net until 1991. Commercial interest wasn’t great anyway until the World Wide Web transformed the rather arcane communication tools of the Net into lively multimedia portals, ready to open on command on the screens of the workforce, student body, and swelling ranks of home users who were just getting comfortable with their PCs.
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