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"MP3 File Sharing For a Fee"

The millions of users sharing MP3 music via the Internet may soon find the process a little
more difficult. Napster, the most popular application used for such purposes, has a
partnership with the German publishing powerhouse Bertelsmann. Recently, Bertelsmann has
suggested they are planning an early summer introduction of a subscription service of
Napster, possibly ending the free operations that have made it so popular. Additionally,
other applications used for such purposes are having a multitude of problems, which limit
the likelihood of a serious Napster challenger.

Bertelsmann is the first of the major music publishers to become affiliated with a file
sharing service. They announced late last year that they would cooperate with Napster who
has been sued by over 10 music publishers for copyright infringement. Since the
announcement of the Bertelsmann arrangement, millions of Napster users have anxiously
awaited the final outcome of the Bertelsmann deal. Currently, the Napster service does
not charge users for sharing music, but the new arrangement is changing this. A price for
the paid service has yet to be released.

According to a variety of news reports, several major music publishers could be joining the Bertelsmann-Napster partnership in upcoming weeks. Some of these publishers are rumored to be among the five publishers that account for about 75 percent of the music market, which include Bertelsmann, EMI Group, Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music.

Napster has denied that anything has been planned for the release of a pay service.
Napster is one of the most popular services on the Internet and has about 57 million
registered users. However, even with all of the attention it receives, itís apparent that
something is imminent in the way of a pay service. They currently do not have a revenue
stream, making it a requirement Ė- either now or in the near future.

According to a survey of Napster users, it appears that a pay service might not be met
with too much opposition. Many people have questioned the ability of Napster to begin
charging for something it previously has given away, but the survey suggested that 70
percent of current users would be willing to pay for a subscription service.

While Napster appears headed toward a pay service, there have been a variety of
challengers to take its spot in offering free service. One of the programs, Gnutella,
does not appear that it is ready to accept the role. The popularity of Napster has been
based on the ability to provide an easy to use software package for beginning users, which
is the current weakness of Gnutella. Although Gnutella is a very good program, itís
difficult for even intermediate computer users to set up and use. Because of slow
download speeds that plague its operations and the relatively complicated installation and
sign-up process, its popularity has dwindled. It appears that it needs some major fixes
before it could be up to the challenge. As a result, free music sharing may become a
thing of the past for millions of Internet users.

  - by Clayton Crooks

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