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Napster Users Flee

With the shutdown of Napster pending, many of its 20 million users, like those furry rodents leaving the proverbial sinking ship, are switching to "peer-to-peer" file sharing networks like Gnutella and FreeNet.

Unlike Napster, these networks are not owned by anyone and have no central server, so there is no company to sue and no main site that can be shut down. The only way to shut down a "peer-to-peer" network is to go after individual users, which would be prohibitively expensive.

"Napster was a great way for me to sample new music by major artists and to explore new music genres," says Bruce Fries, author of The MP3 and Internet Audio Handbook. "With Napster, I've been able to sample music that wasn't played on the local radio stations. I've purchased CDs from well-known artists and from artists that I wouldn't have known about otherwise. Now that the court has ruled against Napster, I plan to use Gnutella."

Many people believe that file sharing services are here to stay and that the record labels are making a mistake by not embracing the technology and finding ways to profit from it and pay royalties to the artists and songwriters.

"Napster would never have existed if the labels had fulfilled the demand for individual songs, in MP3 format, from major artists," says co-author Marty Fries. "People are fed up with spending money for CDs with only one good song and a lot of filler. The industry needs to transition back to offering singles and eventually offer subscription services, similar to Napster."

Gnutella is a real-time search, peer-based file-sharing client that allows any Internet user running the client to search for and download files - and these can be movie or other media files, not just music - from other Gnutella users.

"Site numbers have jumped to 1.2 million hits in the last 24 hours and is peaking at 75,000 hits per hour making the Gnutella portal one of the most trafficked sites today," commented a company representative.

The site even went down for several hours under the burden of the extra traffic.

According to a survey of 1,560 home Internet users on Wednesday by PC Data, only 16 percent agreed with the RIAA's arguments and agreed that services like Napster should be closed down.

Even if all sites like Napster and Gnutella are wiped off the Internet quicker than replacements can be put up, low-tech swapping will go on.

In the end, as labels like EMI make legitimate deals with MP3.com, it may be expected that despite the victory of RIAA over Napster, the big media players will co-opt file-sharing technology and turn it into a cash cow. The rush of consumers to sites similar to Napster should be a clear message that this new technology is more that a threat, it is a golden opportunity.