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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
MP3: A novice's guide
What is MP3?
It is the hi-tech equivalent of home taping. MP3 is the popular name for Mpeg-1 layer 3, a digital compression format from the Moving Picture Expert Group. The software allows audio files - which are usually very large - to be compressed to one-twelfth of their original size. These files can then be stored on a PC's hard drive, burned onto a blank CD, e-mailed to a friend, posted on a website or loaded onto a personal player.

How do I get MP3?
All you need to do is download an MP3 player for free from the internet. You can then go to sites such as, download a track and set about creating your own tailored album. The software also allows you to convert your CD, mini-disk and tape recordings into MP3 files.

What if I don't like sitting at my computer?
Another attraction of MP3 is that it is possible to download an MP3 file into a portable player. The music is stored on a memory card - the amount depends on how much memory your player has. MP3 players - now widely available - are ideal for people who like their tunes on the move. They are compact and because there are no moving parts it means that there is no possibility of skipping tracks like a more traditional CD player.

Why is MP3 in the news?
Music piracy. The record industry is worried about the amount of music that is available on the web illegally.

MP3 was initially touted as an ideal way to make the music of bands without recording contracts freely available for anyone on the internet. As well as free music there are also plenty of legitimate sites selling music from established artists in the MP3 format.

But the technology is such that anyone can make illegal pirate copies available to anyone else on the internet. These files can easily be downloaded in breach of copyright and without payment to the artist or record company.

Music piracy has been around for a long time, but MP3 has altered the nature of the problem. The record industry is worried it is missing out on vast amounts of revenue.

How serious is this?
Record companies are taking it very seriously. As well as being concerned about establishing a secure distribution and copyright management standard they are also fearful of losing control of of the traditional process of manufacturing CDs and tapes. Currently several legal battles are being fought over MP3 in the US.

Who's in court?
A US court recently ruled against the music site which offers a service called that allows users access to their own CD collection online for free. It found that the site did not have record company permission to create the database that makes this service possible. is appealing against the decision.

Another focus of the music industry's ire is the company Napster.

Crucially Napster has pioneered a file sharing system that allows anyone to locate an MP3 file on another users hard drive and download it onto their computer. lists what is available on MP3 format on thousands of hard drives. It has been taken to court by the Recording Industry Association of America. Napster claims it is just a service provider and not liable for the actions of its users - but a US court has ruled otherwise.

Napster is also being sued separately by the bands Metallica and the rapper Dr Dre.

In a recent tirade, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich threatened to confiscate individual users' hard drives if they illegally downloaded his music. The group recently won the right to have over 300,000 Napster users, which it says had illegally downloaded their songs, removed from the Napster service.


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