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Napster: Ex RIAA boss rues lost opportunity

Where legals daren't

It's the tenth anniversary of Shawn Fanning's Napster - and former RIAA chief Hilary Rosen has again regretted not being able to legitimise the service.

"I've been quoted as saying the record companies should have jumped off the cliff and signed a deal. I thought it at the time. It was well documented that I privately urged that," Rosen told Billboard.

Within a year of its release, Napster had tens of millions of users, and people who'd never used a PC were buying one to acquire music. That's a distribution channel, Rosen acknowledges, but the industry wouldn't legitimise it. She explains:

"But it would have been jumping off a cliff, and people have to understand that. The artists were against it. The publishers were against it. Nobody knew how they were going to get paid."

Instead, the RIAA's litigation helped drive P2P underground - where it became entrenched, and harder to monetise.

Rosen also criticised a lack of action and "too much attention on security and not enough on interoperability".

In 2003, the RIAA started to sue individual downloaders. But this only made downloading more attractive, she now notes. "Ripping off the man created some extra joy, not just a convenience factor."

After Napster closed its doors, music labels signed up in the hope of converting it into a paying subscription service, but the concept still couldn't gain industry-wide traction. The Napster brand name was sold to Roxio, and used for a DRM subscription service.

The file-sharing aspect of the original Napster terrified some major label executives - and still does. Shawn Fanning went on to build an infrastructure for legal file sharing with Snocap - but met the same resistance, and left before the company's assets were sold recently.

You can read the interview at Billboard - and a short history of the music business's home-grown flops, here. Chris Castle, a lawyer for Napster at the time, shared some insights with us recently here. ®

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