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Napster and co. violate copyright, users admit

So says survey, but so what?

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Napster's argument that its music sharing service doesn't violate copyright laws is fooling no one, least of all its users. That at least is the conclusion drawn from a survey of Internet users by market researcher Gartner Group.

Gartner asked US surfers whether they agreed with claims that Internet-based file sharing services and software - not only Napster but the likes of Scour, Aimster and Gnutella too - break copyright law.

Only 28 per cent of respondents who use these services said Napster and co. were legitimate - another 28 per cent admitted right out that they involve copyright violation. The remaining 44 per cent were 'don't knows', who Gartner chooses - rightly we suspect - of playing it cautious, given the as yet uncertain legal position.

Respondents who don't use such services are broadly as confused as their Napster-user counterparts. Some 43 per cent of them admitted they didn't know one way or the other, though only 14 per cent said that file sharing was legitimate - 42 per cent, on the other hand, said downloading files was illegal. That's probably why they do use the software.

Ultimately, though, what does such research show? Mainly that neither Napster nor the music business have come up with convincing arguments. It's clear that most people are utterly confused by the matter, and the sooner a judgement is made one way or the other the better.

Of course, that's unlikely to change usage patterns. Music fans still tape each others' CDs even though the illegality of that action is well established, and that pattern of behaviour will be replicated in the online world, through the likes of true peer-to-peer clients like Gnutella if not Napster.

All of which shows that what's really needed is not a clear statement on the illegality or otherwise of file sharing software and services, but a new copyright and commerce model that renders the question unnecessary. ®

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