Napster: We’re not dead yet, really

So Napster — the “new and improved” version — is going to try a Web-only strategy, after the (apparently) somewhat lacklustre response to its subscription-based downloadable software app and service. Smart move or desperate measure? Possibly a little bit of both. Let’s put it this way: it would have been a whole lot smarter, and a lot less desperate, if Napster had chosen to go the Web route a couple of years ago.

napster-logo.jpgBut then, what we’re calling Napster is really just a rebranded version of PressPlay, the lame record-company backed service, which was given the name that Roxio acquired out of bankruptcy — a bankruptcy that occurred after the RIAA sued Napster into oblivion and an acquisition by Bertelsmann AG was struck down by the courts. The real Napster died almost five years ago now, and the record companies spent the intervening years suing people and then getting taken to the cleaners by Steve Jobs and iTunes.

I have to say, whenever I see that logo with the cat (or whatever it is) wearing the headphones, I feel more than a twinge of nostalgia. For a brief period in the late 1990s, Napster was the best thing that had ever happened to the Internet as far as I was concerned. I know that it enabled rampant copyright infringement, etc., etc — but it was still a fantastically liberating piece of technology.

Napster says that it is preparing for the day when the major record labels (apart from EMI) finally see the light and start offering their music without DRM (digital-rights management) controls. Unfortunately, that day may never come — and even if it does, Napster is probably not the one that will benefit.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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