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SiliconValley.internet.com: Napster Supporters Rally; Competition Soars; RIAA: "DOH!"

Jul 31, 2000, 21:13 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jayson Matthews)


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By Jayson Matthews, SiliconValley.internet.com

When was the last time you took to the streets for a Web site? UnderGroundOnline, an entertainment portal focused on the 18-34 year old market, recently took to Silicon Alley in New York with a massive combat truck, a barrel of protest signs, and a mission statement:


Hundreds of supporters rallied around the truck on Friday, holding up signs like "Down with Metallica" (the first band to sue the music-swapping portal) and "The Day The Music Died!"

The protests follow a ruling on Wednesday against the controversial San Mateo-based company, when U.S. District Judge Marylin Hall Patel said Napster was "clearly in violation" of copyright infringement, and ordered the site to close its doors by Friday (appeals have stayed the closing until sometime in September).

"We're mad as hell about the Napster ruling and we're not going to take it anymore," said J Moses, CEO and President of UnderGroundOnline at the protest. "Let's raise some hell!"

Suffice it to say, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), may no longer be quite as happy at itself for bringing on the lawsuit, even despite the recent court win. Analysts have deluged the press (which has in turn deluged the public) with near guarantees that the lawsuit has in fact widened the demand for online digital music.

Chris MacAskill, CEO of Santa-Clara-based Mightywords.com, which sells short works of fiction and other literature at its Web site, says it's clear that Napster caught the music industry by surprise and unprepared.

"They (Napster) provide a service that's nice and convenient," says MacAskill. "The music labels have been slow in providing anything like it that people could pay for."

Consequently, several similar-type services to Napster's, including Redwood City-based Gnutella, have already seen a tremendous increase in their customer base since Friday. Gnutella registered over 1 million unique hits in the past three days alone, peaking at 75,000 hits per hour!

In conjunction with the popularity boost, Napster on Saturday called for a "Buy-cott" weekend, urging its 22 million registered users to buy a CD from an artist they originally heard through Napster.

"File-sharing among music fans helps to create a larger community of passionate music lovers, which allows the industry to sell even more music to fans," says Shawn Fanning, the 19-year-old creator of Napster in a written statement. "To prove just how much our users love music, and to show the buying power of such a large group of music fans, we are asking all of our users to join us...for a 'Napster Buy-cott.'"

Several industry studies, most recently by Gartner Group and Forrester Research, have all concluded Napster users are more likely to purchase CDs than people who don't use the service.

EMI Digital Distribution is so far the only member of the "Big Five" music companies (Universal Music, BMG, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group) to develop a somewhat cohesive online digital music strategy. It recently offered about 100 albums and 100 singles available for purchase through its Web site. Napster, conversely, has a music and artist offering in the hundreds of thousands.

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