Essay by PaperNerd ContributorUniversity, Master's April 2001

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Napster is the world's leading file-sharing community. Napster's software application enables users to locate and share music files from one convenient, easy-to-use interface. It also provides community members with a vehicle to identify new artists and a forum to communicate their interests and tastes with one another via instant messaging, chat rooms, and Hot List user bookmarks Congressional leaders say they want consumers to have more ways to hear songs online, but they are not ready to force the record companies to license their songs for downloading. This move is sparking Internet companies to say it may be necessary for a level playing field in the industry. Instead, lawmakers plan to keep a spotlight on the issue by holding hearings and publicly urging the labels to move ahead quickly on their own services. The answers to the questions raised Tuesday will ultimately go a long way toward determining whether music, movies and other digital works will be widely available on the Net or tightly controlled by the big music labels and Hollywood studios.

Artists, labels, retail stores, and consumer all have a stake in the issue, as each group tries to position itself to gain leverage in a market still reeling under Napster's influence.

For now, it is clear that the record labels are holding most of the cards, a situation that seemed to make some legislators uncomfortable. Senators at the hearing wanted to know whether anything more could be done to spur the release of music online, ranging from small tax incentives to compulsory licensing. Most of the witnesses shied away from the question or said Congress should not be involved. It was left to Napster, reeling under a series of court losses that threaten to put it out of business, to call explicitly for congressional intervention Still, the tensions over...