Record companies must tune in to the Net - or die

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The record industry chiefs are under a lot of stress. Yesterday, they won the first round of their court battle against Net piracy, obtaining a preliminary injunction to shut Napster's servers down for encouraging "wholesale infringing" of copyrighted music. Perhaps, in their hour of triumph, they could do with some relaxation. We would recommend a fun-fair. There they could play the side-show game where you have a large hammer and have to whack toy squirrels which pop up from holes. It's pointless, as another always appears, but as side-shows go, it's a fine way to take out your aggression. And perhaps it would make the industry understand the futility of its approach to the digital age.

The record industry chiefs are under a lot of stress. Yesterday, they won the first round of their court battle against Net piracy, obtaining a preliminary injunction to shut Napster's servers down for encouraging "wholesale infringing" of copyrighted music. Perhaps, in their hour of triumph, they could do with some relaxation. We would recommend a fun-fair. There they could play the side-show game where you have a large hammer and have to whack toy squirrels which pop up from holes. It's pointless, as another always appears, but as side-shows go, it's a fine way to take out your aggression. And perhaps it would make the industry understand the futility of its approach to the digital age.

On the Net, record companies hold the legal hammer; but Napster is just one squirrel. New technologies to enable quick swapping of music will keep appearing: after Napster there are Gnutella, Freenet, imesh and others not yet dreamed of. Fattened on the profits of overpriced CDs, record companies haven't realised that music no longer needs to come in expensive physical containers. A generation is growing up with MP3s that reside on PCs or hand-held players or the Net, without ever touching a CD.

Napster offered (and still does until 3am on Saturday, when the injunction comes into effect) utter convenience. Log on, enter an artist or track, and a list of songs came up. Want one? A mouse click gets it. E-commerce sites could learn a lot.

Instead of acting like rabbits caught in headlights, the music industry should develop easy, cheap digital music purchasing. Recently, fans were offered Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for online digital purchase - for the same price as a CD, but without the trimmings. Consumers have demonstrated that they want music delivered online - and cheaply. Unless the major record firms embrace the internet, lower CD prices, and find a sensible way to let people buy music digitally, they will be replaced by new firms in tune with the new economy. Listen to the fans. Twenty million Napster users have already sent a message: change the way you do business. Or die.

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