There's an element of comic hopefulness in Napster's latest response to the
injunction that will close it down as of Saturday, July 29, at 3am EDT. On
Wednesday, Judge Patel in San Francisco ordered Napster to freeze its operations
by Saturday morning. On Thursday, Napster filed an appeal against the freeze.
The shutdown would effectively put Napster out of business, force it to lay-off
its 40-odd employees, and cause it to lose its enviable audience (over 20
million users worldwide).
While the plaintiffs in this case have put up $5 million to buffer Napster's
losses during the shutdown, much more than $5 million is at stake. Napster's
competitors have been experiencing record-topping traffic numbers since the
court's ruling on Wednesday; and the majority of these competitors are
structured in such a way as to elude litigation. No matter how the court rules
in the final trial, Napster will have lost a substantial portion of
music-download-addicts in the interim.
So how is Napster responding to the pressure on this 11th-hour
day? How is it bracing for the worst, what signals is it sending through the
ethernet cords of the web-world?
It has posted a message on its front page, urging its supporters to
participate in a "buy-cott" this weekend to assure the recording industry that
Napster users are serious consumers who put their money where their mouse is. It
is asking that Napsters everywhere purchase CDs by any of the 22 musicians who
aren't intent on frying the company. In a touching attempt to foster goodwill,
instructions to users include an injunction to "Be sure to let the record store
know you came from Napster."
Now, last time I checked, clerks at HMV had little or no influence on
producers in the recording industry. Telling one of them that you're
simultaneously a loyal Napster fan AND one who shells out for actual CDs might
impress them, might make them think, "Hey, there goes a classy guy," -- but it's
unlikely to make a big dent in the lawsuit that's threatening to annihilate
However, such romper-room optimism on the part of a multi-million dollar
corporation is certainly inspiring. From now on, we should all seek to resolve
our conflicts and our commercial grievances this way. If you want to fight the
power that is Starbucks, go buy a coffee from the franchise and announce to the
worker-bee behind the counter that you prefer their competitors, but this cup of
java is your way of supporting the free-market economy. If you want to express
your disgust with sweatshops, go and buy a Made-in-China turtleneck and declare
to the checkout drone that you're actually solidifying your allegiance to
democracy by investing in a business that democracy exploits.
You might not change the world, but you'll definitely spark some debates and
hold up a few checkout lines and make enemies of those who just want to purchase
their merchandise in peace. The call for Napster users to unite and buy CDs this
weekend won't change anything for the company; but it'll sure annoy those who
get buttonholed during an innocent trip to the record store.