November 27, 2020 | After months of litigation,
threatening to turn into years and moving the digital copyright
battle to the United States Supreme Court, Bertlesman Music
Group (BMG) finally broke ranks with the other "major" record
labels and made a deal with Napster. The deal calls for
Napster to implement a secure subscription-based music delivery
service, and Bertlesman will in turn invest an estimated
$50 million in Napster in exchange for warrants entitling
it to take a minority ownership position in the company.
BMG will make its entire music catalog available for access
on Napster. BMG is cajoling the other labels to join it
and ultimately they may. But not until Napster apologizes
to Metallica's long-suffering Lars Ulrich, as Hillary Rosen
requested in a recent letter to Napster CEO Hank Barry.
Bertlesman, I am supposing, is more technically aware
than the other members of the Big Five (Sony, Universal,
EMI, and Time Warner). Despite links with hip divisions
or sister companies, the lines of communication between
divisions in these companies appear unused or non-existent.
Bertlesman is moving ahead; the other players are likely
to balk. But when and if the other four record companies
join with Bertlesman and Napster to create a giant music
distribution system, whether subscription or membership-based,
the Napster client has the potential to be the most powerful
music recording package available. And when that happens,
it will shake the CD-Audio recording software business to
Now, we have seen the traditional CD recording packages
becoming more and more audio-enabled, with additions of
WAV editors, track splitters, noise filters, and other accoutrements.
We've also seen new editions becoming ever more "skin-like,"
visually emulating Web-distributed MP3 players and jukeboxes,
which have in turn begun adding CD-Audio recording capability.
So what does Napster have to do with CD recording? We
all know that when it comes to getting tunes, Napster is
by far the easiest to use program around. And of course,
it's free. With the Bertleseman blessing, and plenty of
cash, Shaun Fanning and his gang will be able to concentrate
on the software, improving it and enhancing its functionality.
One seemingly logical improvement would be to add CD-Audio
recording capability. Imagine how many Napster users have
CD-RW drives. Then imagine searching for your favorite tunes
with Napster, cueing them up in several "jobs," and watching
Napster automatically recording each group of songs to CD
as soon as its downloaded. Once done, the CD is ejected
and you load another blank. As soon as the next open job
fills from the download, the next CD is recorded.
Now, some people argue that if you want to make sure that
your audio disc is going to be of good listening quality,
that you have to listen to every song before you record
it. Certainly this isn't something we would have tried a
few years back, but I feel much more at ease putting my
faith in software and hardware these days, trusting that
it will rip and record properly in most situations. And,
with media almost as free as music these days, this model
of a CD-R-capable Napster matches perfectly with today's
Other features of a recording-enhanced Napster could be
the ability to identify a song by running the uploader-listed
name through CDDB to match the name of the song and then
download the exact song name. This information could then
automatically be used to insert the track names into a CD-Text
field and the track name would thus be available for the
creation of a CD-Text audio disc.
Of course, the success of the whole Napster model up until
now was also largely dependent on the fact that users had
the proper ripping tools and could make good clean MP3 copies
of their CD source material. The new model should encourage
users to rip and encode at an acceptable MP3 bit-rate of
at least 128kbps. So besides recording, the Napster client
could have ripping capability and require a minimum file
quality in order for the song to be listed on the service.
This, of course, brings up the possibility of a hybrid
setup where the Napster client is required to rip the song
and, during the process, insert a watermark or other restriction
into the file. This is the road to failure. Bertlesman was
forward-thinking enough to see the value of Napster as it
is, and that to keep it successful, the company must resist
the temptation of turn the service into a giant vault of
protected music. That's the whole point of charging users
a fee; the music does not have to be protected.
Of course, there has been no definitive word from either
Napster or Bertlesman on what the business model will be.
Will today's free and easy sharing fall by the wayside?
Will encrypted formats be used to prevent Napster-acquired
MP3s from being recorded to CD, as with Liquid Audio?
Bertlesman and Napster would do well to remember that
the popularity of Napster depends on the fact that the format
used is MP3, meaning no digital rights management issues
for end-users; any recording program can make discs from
the downloaded material. An MP3 is an MP3 and there are
no restrictions on recording it. Whatever model comes about
for the BMG-era Napster, if users pay a fee of any type,
then the songs that they download should be unencumbered
by watermarks or any other type of recording restrictions.
And then Napster could become the ultimate audio recording
package, and catapult CD-R into the center of the music