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Computing Chat

Eileen Richardson, interim CEO

A chat about why several record labels are suing Napster.

January 5, 2000
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EDT

Chat Moderator: Please welcome Eileen Richardson! Can you tell us who is involved in the suit?

Eileen Richardson: Actually, the suit was filed by 15 or 18 record labels, not the Recording Industry Association of America, as has been mentioned.

Chat Moderator: Can you tell us a little about what your company, Napster, does?

Eileen Richardson: Napster indexes MP3s on the Web.

Chat Moderator: How do MP3s work?

Eileen Richardson: MP3 is a file format for digital music.

Chat Moderator: Where did the idea for Napster come from?

Eileen Richardson: Our founder was frustrated in not being able to both share his own musical creations with his friends and vice versa. He developed Napster for this reason.

Question from Gadasch: I would like to understand the Napster business model. How does Napster intend to make money?

Chat Moderator: How are you different than Yahoo or Lycos MP3 search engines?

Eileen Richardson: We're just better is all. We've focused on making the best possible MP3 search on the Web.

Question from Tstosi: If I have a physical CD copy of the MP3 that I download, is that illegal?

Eileen Richardson: Not at all. You have the right to have a digital backup of any music you own.

Question from FreedomYES: Are we going to have the recording labels and the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] performing Gestapo raids on homes and preventing music swaps if they are allowed to shut down Napster?

Eileen Richardson: I can no longer predict what they will do, sorry. Again, you are allowed to have a digital backup of any music you own on your PC.

Question from RIAA: While there are many legitimate uses of MP3s, don't you feel that your service will be primarily used by music pirates?

Eileen Richardson: We are about enabling amateur and unknown artists to share their music on this new medium. Our job is not to stop pirating; that is your job.

Question from Vsabella: Ms. Richardson, could you please clarify what Napster really is? Is it really a Web-based search engine as you so far have been claiming it to be?

Eileen Richardson: Yes.

Question from Exhiled: My question is, will this suit end with your company? What is the overall legality or chance of end-users getting in trouble for MP3s?

Eileen Richardson: Sorry, I don't know the answer to that. Each user of the web or of Napster needs to obey the law.

Question from KennyA: Hi, Eileen. If Napster were restricted from operating in the U.S., wouldn't it be just as easy to operate from a foreign country?

Eileen Richardson: I guess it would but we are not interested in breaking any laws and plan to operate here in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

Question from Modulated: How can I use Napster to find unknown artists, since you can't use search if you don't know the artists' names or songs?

Eileen Richardson: You don't know the name of your friend's music? Or of the band you heard last night at a local club? Of course you do. And we are creating amazing new ways (once we're out of beta) to enable you to find new unsigned artists you've never heard of. This will be a new medium for locating new talent.

Question from Seeknowsage: What is the purpose of singling out Napster other than to lash out at the success it has experienced, both for unknown and amateur artists and users alike, when there are countless MP3 search engines out there that perform the same function?

Eileen Richardson: I guess we're making some noise because Napster is doing a better job at locating music.

Question from Francis: Hasn't this lawsuit actually brought more attention to Napster than previously existed, thereby defeating the plaintiff's purpose for the suit?

Eileen Richardson: Absolutely!

Question from KennyA: Eileen, do you have any plans to add access to video to Napster's services?

Eileen Richardson: Can't answer that question now. We have our hands full at the moment, as you may imagine.

Question from Petev: Since you are getting songs from other people's computers, is there a good chance that hackers would be able to get into your computer?

Eileen Richardson: We focused on security first when we developed Napster. We've had no security issues whatsoever.

Question from Dave: When is the next beta version of Napster due out? The MOTD (message of the day) on the servers has said "soon" for quite awhile. =)

Eileen Richardson: You know how development of software goes, it will be shortly. Thanks, Dave.

Chat Moderator: What else does the RIAA want you to do, in addition to posting a warning that transferring MP3s is illegal?

Eileen Richardson: They haven't been clear about that.

Question from AlexD: We all know that the RIAA is fighting a losing war against something that, quite simply, they can't stop. I personally think the biggest worry RIAA has on this is a threat to the distribution medium on which they depend, not the piracy. MP3 is changing the way music is distributed and they don't see themselves in it. I think there are other ways of curving piracy other than trying to make everything MP3 illegal. Any thoughts on this?

Eileen Richardson: Yes, we wanted to and still want to work with them to help them understand that the horse has already left the barn on the MP3 front. They have an opportunity to get in on it now.

Question from Untruth: Eileen, have you been given any justification behind the RIAA's claim of $100,000 per song in damages? That seems outrageously inflated.

Eileen Richardson: I think the law is somewhere between $200 and $100K per song. It looks like they are going for the max. The law is the law.

Question from Jbroom: Isn't there a problem in the fact that the default of the installation of Napster gets you to publicly share with everyone the MP3 contents of your hard-drive?

Eileen Richardson: No. The user has the choice to share or not.

Question from Vsabella: Still, with all your claims about how Napster is going to be a medium for unknown artists, how do you explain the fact that the majority of the music shared on Napster is illegal? Wouldn't that give the RIAA fair suit to say that you are creating a tool for violating copyright?

Eileen Richardson: Remember these are early days. We have plans to make Napster the place to go to find new musical talent. We are five months old and in beta.

Question from Doogie: What sort of penalties could an end user receive for having one illegal MP3?

Eileen Richardson: Sorry, I don't know the answer to that. They should only have non-copyrighted music on their PC or copies of music that they own.

Question from Jag96gt: If Napster is suited for unknown artists, how can I legally download any of their music without having their CD?

Eileen Richardson: By unknown artists, I mean artists that are not signed by a label yet and, therefore, have music that is not copyright protected.

Question from Lord Helmet: Will Napster adapt to new music file formats that will provide better compression and sound than MP3?

Eileen Richardson: Potentially.

Question from Wwarneck: Eileen, what was your experience with MP3s, computers, and such before getting involved with Shawn and his crew?

Eileen Richardson: I have been in high tech venture capital for 10 years, working with small, fast-growing companies and sitting on their boards of directors to help guide them.

Question from Edibleplastic: When is the lawsuit supposed to be decided?

Eileen Richardson: These things take a long time in my experience.

Question from Dave: Is there any way we can help Napster out besides beta testing and sending feedback?

Eileen Richardson: Yes, we will have a place on our Web site very soon where you will be able to express your opinions and further help us.

Question from Steve: Why do you feel that Napster has been singled out when many Internet search engines can provide the same kind of information about pirated MP3s?

Eileen Richardson: I really believe it is because Napster is so easy to use and does real-time search. Most other engines have broken links and make it very difficult to locate MP3s.

Question from Mojo: I'm a current Napster user, should I be worried that my name is on your lists if there is prosecution?

Eileen Richardson: Absolutely not. We don't retain any information about our users whatsoever.

Question from Gabe: Hi, Eileen, I'm a college student and recently my university banned all access to Napster servers. Do you think such action is justified?

Eileen Richardson: I think that is the downside of our success. We've heard that we use a lot of bandwidth at some campuses.

Question from Hackman: Has the RIAA made any statements in the suit against Napster regarding other transfer methods (i.e. Usenet newsgroups, CD-r) and how they intend to fight that battle?

Eileen Richardson: No, not in the suit.

Chat Moderator: Why is Napster so popular?

Eileen Richardson: Because we are the best search engine for MP3s on the Web.

Question from Francis: If Napster loses this suit, to what degree will Napster servers simply go underground?

Eileen Richardson: Good question, but it's not for me to answer.

Question from Ginger: Eileen, has the thought of adding a monthly fee for users been discussed? Would it be possible to distribute a portion of that membership fee to musicians for legal compensation?

Eileen Richardson: We are going to figure out a way to pay artists, that I can assure you.

Question from Modulated: Is Napster subject to the "notice and take down" rules requiring ISPs to prevent access to individual MP3s if notified by a rights holder that they are not authorized?

Eileen Richardson: Yes.

Question from Lord Helmet: If Napster loses then someone else will make the exact same search engine. How can the RIAA ever hope to win?

Eileen Richardson: Very good point. Even if they win this battle, they will lose the war. I wish we could work with them to figure out a way to work with them.

Question from Upnya: If you retain no information on the user at all, then how can you notify them to remove an illegal MP3 from their list?

Question from Kingtutt77: Where did the name Napster come from?

Eileen Richardson: Our founder had nappy hair in high school and that was his nickname.

Question from Utahman: Are you worried about the legal bills that you might incur because of the lawsuit?

Eileen Richardson: No, raising money is not a problem.

Question from Tstosi: How does Napster plan to make money if your software and services are free?

Eileen Richardson: We are working on a business model now. Keep your eyes pealed!

Question from Wwarneck: Eileen, what would you be willing to do to the Napster program to satisfy RIAA demands? What protection methods would you implement to make them happy? Or, where do you draw a line?

Eileen Richardson: We were in discussions with the RIAA to try to understand what they wanted us to do and what we could in fact do to "make them happy." Unfortunately, those discussions didn't get very far.

Question from Candlebox: Do any data packets of MP3 transmissions cross your networks? If not, are you really liable?

Eileen Richardson: No, they do not. That is the question this lawsuit hopes to answer.

Question from Iomusic_Man: How can I invest in Napster?

Eileen Richardson: We get that question a lot. It is difficult to invest in Napster at this point.

Question from Modulated: Do you think Record labels will start using technology to prevent ANY home copying of CDs or DVD audio discs because of things like Napster? If so, won't public be worse off?

Eileen Richardson: I'm not sure how they could do that. I think the Internet is here to stay and that they should try to embrace it as the new medium for the new millennium.

Question from Kalpol: Have you been getting any support from record labels not affiliated with the RIAA?

Eileen Richardson: Yes, we have. Newer artists understand that this is the medium of the future.

Question from Sneak: What do you see as the worst possible and the best possible outcomes from this RIAA suit?

Eileen Richardson: I don't really think the outcome of the suit has anything to do with what has already happened on the Internet. Either way, MP3s are here to stay.

Question from Yttrium: How do you see yourself competing with sites like, which allows the artists to sell their own CDs and post other band-related information?

Eileen Richardson: We have ideas for doing similar things.

Question from FreeUSA: If the lawsuit does force Napster to completely shut down, is there any chance of making the software and source open so that it can be continued by the open-source community and independent servers?

Eileen Richardson: No comment.

Question from Memnoc: In the development stage of Napster, you knew legal issues would arise. What other steps has Napster taken to insure against breaking copyright laws?

Eileen Richardson: That is not our job. We developed Napster to enable people to easily share MP3s.

Question from Francis: People have been sharing music since recording devices became available, why doesn't RIAA simply join you rather than fight you?

Eileen Richardson: I wish I could answer that question. No comment.

Question from Sokath: Are there any plans to release the server source code or binaries and have Napster become like IRC?

Eileen Richardson: No comment.

Question from Hunterseeker: Before Napster was released, someone must have known that legal problems would arise. Are you surprised at the length of time it took to be sued?

Eileen Richardson: It didn't take that long. We are five months old.

Question from Gadasch: Do you expect MP3 technology and the questions raised by these lawsuits to provoke any changes in copyright laws in the near term? If so, what might be the nature of those changes?

Eileen Richardson: Good question. Copyright laws were created before there was an Internet. So when there are old laws that don't apply to the modern day, usually they eventually catch up.

Question from Jackson: If security is not a problem, how was the UNIX version created without your permission?

Eileen Richardson: I was discussing security before regarding people information on their hard drive.

Question from Xavier: Eileen, what's the deal with the other Napster-like services that have sprung up lately? Are they backing you up on this issue or are they letting you handle this case by yourselves?

Eileen Richardson: Haven't heard much from them.

Question from Francis: Will the Napster servers continue to be around during this suit or has a cease and desist order been issued at this time?

Eileen Richardson: No cease and desist order.

Question from Kajoob: What have you done as far as Trojan Horses are concerned? May they be placed in an MP3 and disseminated throughout the Napster servers?

Eileen Richardson: ?? No comment.

Question from Francis: Can't you basically force RIAA to tone it down with the threat of an open-source release?

Eileen Richardson: No comment.

Question from Nobar: Has the copyright issue surfaced about the usage of the Real Jukebox?? It has the same capabilities as Napster, but limited.

Eileen Richardson: I don't know.

Question from DanZ: Does Napster do anything else beside trade MP3s?

Eileen Richardson: We don't trade MP3s; we enable you to locate them.

Question from Your not responsible: Eileen, what case do they have against you? You're basically just providing a medium for people to discuss and share music amongst themselves, not necessarily pirated music. They are going after the wrong people, don't you think?

Eileen Richardson: Yes! This is our point, exactly.

Question from Ramrod: What are your plans for Napster? Essentially, how could Napster work with the big five? It seems unlikely that Napster users would go out and buy albums when they can get pretty much anything they want using the service. Also, are you billing Napster as a service, like an ISP?

Eileen Richardson: Yes, we are very much an ISP for one particular file format. We already have at least one of the big five knocking at our door.

Question from Dave: Would it be possible for end users to help Napster out by making their own servers in the future?

Eileen Richardson: No comment.

Question from Ben_Glickler: What would you do with Napster if RIAA was able to force you to disclose information on MP3 pirates?

Eileen Richardson: Sorry, we're unable to do that.

Chat Moderator: Eileen, do you have any final comments you'd like to leave us with?

Eileen Richardson: Napster is in the middle of two very large industries: the Internet industry and the recording industry. When technology advances, there is always disagreement. This is the way of the world, especially the world of the Web. We hope to be able to provide a forum for my son and his band to find new listeners through this exciting new medium. Here's to new and emerging artists being able to find their fans!

Chat Moderator: Thanks for joining us, Eileen Richardson!

Eileen Richardson: Thank you all for coming. If you have additional questions, please send them to and I will try to answer them.

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