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The Daily Tar Heel

Napster Not as Evil as Labels, Courts Insist

And they shouldn't because it's debatable that the industry even has a problem, and, if it does, it's not Napster's fault.

Major record companies would have you believe Napster has caused them to lose all kinds of revenue and has hurt their artists (the ones who actually deserve that revenue) financially.

But locally, record stores haven't been hit hard, and some even credit Napster with improving sales.

Those that haven't had a good sales year blame factors other than Napster.

If any town's record stores are going to be hurt by Napster, it would be a college town.

After all, there are about 24,000 students in Chapel Hill and Carrboro with ready access to on-campus high-speed Internet connections. We can download a song in less than a minute while we talk on the phone and check our e-mail.

If Napster is a problem, we'd see it here, and no one seems to be seeing it.

University Mall's Camelot Music hasn't suffered sales losses since Napster became popular last year, said assistant manager Gabriel Caviness, who admits he's an avid user of the software.

In fact, Caviness said Napster seems to be helping record sales.

"People are sampling albums and buying albums," he said.

Caviness said he and his friends usually buy albums they've heard downloaded parts of if they like it. Usually it's because they like the artist and want to support him or her.

He said he's heard of many other people doing the same thing.

Schoolkids Records manager Ken Thurheimer said in his observation the Franklin Street store's record sales have gone down since last year, but that it hasn't been a big change.

But Thurheimer wouldn't attribute the loss to Napster's popularity.

He said most of their business is selling indie, jazz, rock, blues, local and bluegrass albums, and there haven't been many good releases in those genres this year.

Most of the albums that have sold well in the past year have been pop albums.

And Schoolkids' customers aren't exactly the type to line up for 'N Sync's latest release, Thurheimer said.

In fact, Thurheimer said Napster has expanded the album purchases for many people.

"I get a lot of people who find out about a lot of new bands and new artists."

Don Rosenberg, who's based in Charlotte and owns Franklin Street's Record Exchange, thinks record companies are targeting the wrong problem by suing Napster.

"I think the real culprit is people can burn their own CDs now," he said.

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And that's the record company's own fault, Rosenberg said. He said the technology to prevent copyrighted material from being copied from CD to CD has been available for years, and record companies should have been farsighted enough to worry about using it then.

Rosenberg said between 93 and 97 percent of downloaded songs are eventually deleted, and that means people are downloading music mostly to decide whether they like a song enough to buy the album.

Napster users aren't the serial copyright infringers major record label owners and lawyers would have you think they are, at least not in Chapel Hill.

If local businesses are right, record companies should drop their lawsuits and see what file-sharing services like Napster can do for them.

Even if they don't, music lovers will still find a way to get what they want.

As Camelot's Caviness said, "I don't think the government's going to stop free music any time soon."

Columnist Erin Mendell can be reached at mendell@email.unc.edu.

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