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Jollyon Benn answers your questions
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Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
MP3 wars: Your questions answered

Controversial music-sharing website Napster has been ordered to shut down by a US federal court judge pending a trial over whether the company is violating copyright law.

The legal battle will be watched closely by internet music fans and the music industry alike, and may have far-reaching implications.

We put your questions to Jollyon Benn, Internet Investigation Executive in the Anti Piracy Unit of the British Phonographic Industry Ltd (BPI), which represents the interests of Britain's record companies and is at the forefront in the fight against music piracy.

Gurmi, UK: It was not so long ago when home taping was supposed to be killing music. Of course this did not happen. So why do the major labels and acts think MP3 will do the same?

Jollyon Benn: When you're talking about home-taping you're talking about a situation where somebody spends their Saturday mooching around the record stores, buys a piece of music and copies it for their friends, but they'vbe got a limited amount of people they can do that for. With MP3, as soon as you put the file onto the internet, you've got an audience of tens of millions of people around the world who can make copies of that, it's a much greater audience a super-distribution. And you've also got a situation where peoople are doing this with pre-released sales and undermining the ability of record companies to actually make record sales.

Nik, UK: Surely its time to tackle the rip-off music industry's monopoly and blatant price fixing as a long term solution to copyrighting issue?

Jollyon Benn:

People have been brain-washed into thinking rip-off Britain is abusing consumers when in actual fact these things have inherent value which should be recognised

Jollyon Benn
Price-fixing is an interesting way of looking at these things. If you consider the fact that you can now buy a CD in the UK for under £10 and when I was a teenager, before CD was invented, I was paying the same price for an album. How anyone can say this is a rip-off when prices have remained constant for so long is beyond me. I think people have been brain-washed into thinking rip-off Britain is abusing consumers when in actual fact these things have inherent value which should be recognised.

Rob Endersby, UK: I'm a website developer specialising in independent labels and I actively encourages the distribution of MP3's. In my experience MP3's encourage music sales as fans will always often the album if they enjoy a free sample from it. After all you cannot show off a shelf full of MP3's.

Jollyon Benn: I'm sure Rob represents a great deal of people who take the view that MP3 can be used as a promotional device and certainly the likes of Fatboy Slim, Stereophonics and Underworld have done just that and pre-released tracks from their albums last year.

There is an element of truth to what he says but there is a subtlety here that is being missed, which is that these guys that are using these new technologies to duplicate MP3 files and sending them round the world, and people are saying,' well, I've got a copy here and I don't need to buy that and I think the majority of record companies in the UK would regard that as undermining their ability to sell music.

Hendrix Harrison: The biggest loser is the artist not the record companies in this battle. It is through Napster that we get to hear new, obscure and not widely promoted artists. With Napster gone these will suffer heavily.

Jollyon Benn:

I really don't think the majority of traffic on these sites are for these smaller upcoming bands

Jollyon Benn
I don't understand why that's the case with Napster because from my experience it's been used to distribute every single recording out there, I really don't think the majority of traffic on these sites are for these smaller upcoming bands. These guys have other ways of getting out there anyway, by making their material available for free download and going through peoplesound and Lycos etc.

Tim Lewis, Japan: As a programmer of computer software, I'm well aware of how damaging piracy can be. However, the computer industry has adapted to new technology and have found that new formats and new distribution technologies have been more of a boon than a burden. Music could go the same way and I believe that if record companies embraced MP3's and gave away a track or two from an album on their website then I'm sure it would have an advantageous effect.

Jollyon Benn: The record companies are already doing that. V2, Underworld's record label for example, for a limited period MP3's were available for download from the site. But many record companies are reluctant to do this because they are scared that if it's not encrypted multiple copies are going to be made.

Travis, UK : Napster will not go away so don't you think that perhaps a partnership with them of some sort would make more sense? Perhaps a subscription system whereby Napster users pay a certain amount a year to download whatever they wish? The money would then be distributed among the writers and performers.

Jollyon Benn: There was a move I think by Napster to talk to liquid audio about the possibility of adding a commercial angle to the service. That's something I think would be quite interesting because what did when they were sued by RIAA was try and strike a deal. A couple of the majors went for it, but not all of them agreed. It may be that individual labels want to strike deals but it wouldn't necessarily suit everyone.

Anon, Canada: Why don't bands such as Metallica which don't wish their music to be on napster, have it removed. But, the bands that do not mind, they can have theirs left on. Surely this keeps the music fans and the artists happy.

Jollyon Benn: It sounds a happy compromise to me, but again in America with where the software that they promulgated which was supposed to zap the links to infringing audio files, it puts the onus on the copyright owner to enforce and tidy up their servers rather than the people who run the service.

Mark Jones, England: Shutting down Napster will only make others take over the reins - it will never be stopped. The Internet cannot be controlled, nor can the information that is exchanged over it. Do you think you can ever really win the war against piracy?

Jollyon Benn: If you'd asked me a year ago I'd have said no we haven't a chance because I'm just one person in the UK looking at these websites which are distributing our members repertoire without authorisation and it's a tough job. But I'm quite heartened by the fact that the BPI has an in-house anti-piracy unit which is developing tools for making the process much more efficient.

I think there's an element of truth in what he says, in the same way as people have always wanted to listen to music in whatever format suits them and MP3 is just the next generation of that for people who want to listen to music through their computers. I think that new technologies will develop and the idea of having a distribution model which doesn't have a central server, which is the idea that Ian Clark is proposing in his Freenet project will be the next interesting development because that encrypted technology suggests that you can't detect who's using it. In actual fact you can at the moment, but if those things develop in such a way that it makes it completely anonymous and there is no central service, then we've got a tough problem on our hands.

I think the record industry is best off trying to explain to people that this notion that we're fat cats, that we've had it too good for too long is absolute nonsense

Jollyon Benn
I think perhaps what the record industry is best off doing is trying to explain to people that this notion that we're fat cats, that we've had it too good for too long is absolute nonsense. We're an economic function, we provide billions pounds to the UK treasury, we employ tens of thousands of people. Alright we may have an awful lot of acts that don't suceed but at least we're in a financially secure position to be able to go out and experiment with new bands, find new talent and you can only really do that while you've got the money coming in through the front door and selling records legitimately. That's the message we really need to get across, that we're a legitimate industry, in generally good for the whole UK economy, the notion that music should be free is going to be a downward spiral until there is no more new music, you have to carry on frying hamburgers at McDonalds because you have to have a day job in order to fund your hobby of being a musician, nonsense really, you want to nurture these acts and make sure that they are successful.

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