Robert X. Cringely offers an intriguing idea that’s apparently sweeping the blogosphere–but only in blogs I don’t read.

I call my idea Son of Napster, or Snapster for short.

Napster failed because it was determined by the courts to violate intellectual property rights and because it did not have a successful business model, or any business model for that matter. Any successor to Napster must be both legal (if barely) and profitable.

First the law. Snapster is built on the legal concept of Fair Use, which allows people who purchase records, tapes, and CDs to make copies for backup and for moving the content to other media. So a CD can be copied to an MP3 player, for example. But to remain legal, the MP3 player should be that of the CD owner and not that of another person. CDs can be lent, sold, or borrowed, but in order to make backup or media-shifting copies, the copier must own the original CD. If the original CD is no longer owned by the maker of the backup or media shifting copies because the CD has been sold or given away, any copies should be destroyed under U.S. copyright law.

This is an interesting idea, although I can’t imagine this would stand the legal test. While it would technically be true that all “owners” of Snapster would thus own an infinitescimile share of the CD, with the right to make “personal” copies of it for their own use, there is nothing that would render this fundamentally different from Napster or its successors from the standpoint of copyright holders.

(Hat tip: Cowboy Neal at Slashdot)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “Yawn.” Theft is theft – I buy my music.

  2. Paul says:

    You know all of this could be avoided if the record industry would get with the program.

    The music growers association should have started Napster. Or they should start one now. Apple Computer has proven with iTunes Music Store that million of people will buy music over the net.

    If you look at the history of music media, quality has never been the issue. Indeed audiophiles still listen to phonographs. Reel to reel was replaced by the 8 track then the cassette then the CD then the MP3. Each of these was an order of magnitude more portable. That is what has always driven music media innovation, portability. Quailty has gone up and down thru these generations.

    The music growers association has their head in the sand and their thumbs well… Let’s just say they don’t get it. Portable digital music is here to stay. If the industry is to survive, they will embrace it and make a buck off it.

    OK off the soapbox.