If only Napster had been licensed and embraced, then perhaps the recording industry could have thrived in the 2000s.
But is that viewpoint too simple? According to BPI chief Geoff Taylor, the complexities of embracing Napster are often overlooked. “To make music fully and legally available on the internet meant clearing the rights in millions of tracks for a huge number of countries, agreeing how the revenue should be shared, implementing workable DRM (which everyone considered fundamental at the time), developing technology to track all the downloads for royalty purposes, as well as creating a quality user experience people would pay for,” Taylor asserted in a submission to the BBC.
So, blame it all on hopeless complexity? Taylor is describing a business too complicated for its own good, and one notorious for infighting and disagreement. But even if the industry had miraculously agreed to support Napster in the late 90s – a fantastical bet – then clearing the details would have taken years, even on an aggressive schedule.
But Taylor admitted to some serious mistakes. After Napster was torpedoed in court, underground and decentralized file-sharing technologies took over – and ravaged the industry in a more sinister way. “In 1999, Napster developed a great digital service, but did so at the expense of music, while the music business protected music at the expense of progressing online digital services,” Taylor conceded. “In 2009, we’ve all learnt our lessons.”