Re-sending Eric Hallman's original Napster Posting

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Sat May 20 09:57:15 EST 2000

This is Eric Hellman's original posting on Napster, to which I replied.
I had first forwarded his own posting to the American Scientist Forum,
but I should have sent it to all the lists on which I subsequently
replied to it. My apologies to Eric.

Stevan Harnad

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 11:36:03 -0700
From: Eric Hellman <eric at>
To: "'harnad at'" <harnad at>
Subject: FW: [Discuss-DOI] Napster and DOI
Resent-Date: Fri, 19 May 2000 21:27:08 +0100 (BST)
Resent-From: Stevan Harnad <harnad at>
Resent-To: september98-forum at amsci-forum.amsci.orq

Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2000 8:45 PM
To: discuss-doi at
Subject: [Discuss-DOI] Napster and DOI

Napster: the ultimate digital library
Publishers of digital content should be interested in Napster.

For those of you who don't follow the music industry, a quick 
description of Napster is in order. Napster is a mechanism for the 
distributed distribution of digital music that works by providing a 
centralized database of hyperlinks. College students have latched 
onto Napster as an easy way to share the music that they purchase or 
otherwise acquire with others. Napster turns a user's computer into a 
web server that delivers MP3 files to other users. The popularity of 
Napster has flooded the IP networks of a number of colleges, forcing 
them to ban the use of Napster.

Although a number of lawsuits have been filed trying to shut down 
Napster because of its potential for copyright abuse, the music 
industry's war against Napster is one they have already lost, even if 
they win numerous legal battles. The genie is out of the bottle. New, 
unsigned bands are looking to Napster as a friendly, grassroots 
distribution mechanism in the tradition of the Grateful Dead's policy 
of encouraging the private taping of concerts. Students are using 
Napster the way previous generations used underground radio stations. 
The bottom line is that the music conglomerates have completely lost 
control of the next generation of their business. The fact that 
industry people still argue whether safeguards in SDMI are strong 
enough underscores the essential disconnect between the industry and 
their youngest customers.

The music industry has many parallels with the books and serials 
industries; in fact, there are very strong parallels between Napster 
and the recent efforts to develop interoperable archives for 
technical articles.

Let's look at some of the similarities and differences:

1. Both are distributed content distribution schemes.
2. Both are catalyzed by uniform identifier systems.
3. Both are driven by grassroots rather than by incumbent industries.
4. The supply of content exceeds the demand.

1. Rock Stars get megabucks from the music companies. Nobel winners 
are not significantly compensated by publishers.
2. Music is youth-driven; print is not.
3. Many Napster-enabled activities are clearly illegal. e-print 
archives are clearly legal.
4. Napster has no stored content, whereas archives have storage as 
part of their mission.

It is interesting to note that DOI, which is being pushed by the STM 
publishing industry as a linking mechanism, will make the task of 
Napsterizing STM articles much easier.

For the print publishing industry, the key to avoiding the fate of 
the music industry is to recognize early on which initiatives are 
likely to be conducive to orderly change in their industry, and to 
realize that the sort of control over distribution which existed in 
the past is a thing of the past. For example, the music industry has 
belatedly realized that RealAudio is a better alternative than 
Napster. In a similar situation, the Biomedical publishing community 
has raised a particular stink about PubMed Central, which will seem 
awfully benign in the face of the more Napsteresque publishing 
systems which are sure to arise.

If you think this is a fantasy, read

Eric Hellman
Openly Informatics, Inc.           21st Century Information Infrastructure
LinkBaton: Your Shortcuts to Information

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