The Psyche of Gen Napster

Emily Rothkopf

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity takes a unique outlook on the negative effects of piracy, focusing on the sociological effects on the culprit – particularly the child pirate – rather than the political and economic implications on an industry, or on an even larger scale – art and capitalism.  The latter is what the majority has discussed and focused on.  Perhaps upon having children of his own, Lessig has taken a 180 degree look at the issue proposing that the real threat of piracy is the psychological effects on a generation and future generations of children growing up, adopting the technologies available to them, “stealing” digital content (music, movies, etc.), and perceiving themselves and their actions as criminal.  Will these generations continue to blur the lines between what they can and can’t do according to law?  Lessig faults copyright laws in the piracy dilemma, or in general, laws that are dysfunctional and overly strict (Lessig xx).  As part of the original “Napster Generation,” perhaps the largest, original group of young pirates in the digital age, I concur that the unnecessary criminalization could have potentially detrimental effects on youth culture and that the outdated laws need to be modified.  However, I would like to examine the psyche of the pirate from a different angle to explore the role of technology and community in the solution.

I started using Napster upon purchasing my brand new desktop computer (which literally encompassed my entire desktop) for college in 2000.  I admittedly recall one of my first downloads being Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle – quite an innocent download for a pirate.  By the end of my freshman year I had compiled close to 1,000 songs and was immensely proud of my diverse and extensive collection.  For college students, our Napster playlists were with us as we did everything from studying to “pre-gaming” to just chilling out.  And it gave us exposure to more genres and artists than we could have possibly imagined.  It served a purpose just as other newly arising technologies did at the time – e.g. Instant Messenger, texting – and enabled us to fit into our ever-evolving communities.  With Napster, I was adopting a technology that my community had agreed upon was the most efficient and purposeful of its kind.  I wasn’t just “stealing” music for the sake of it or because I wanted something for free.  And I certainly wasn’t profiting off of my collection.  I was doing it because it simply made sense.  Would I even be able to find Rahzel’s If Your Mother Only Knew at Tower Records?  Or would I even be interested in the rest of the tracks on his album?  Well, I wouldn’t have even heard of the song, or beatboxing, if it weren’t for Napster.

Over the last ten years, new technologies have arisen in music sharing that enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and build off of a sense of community – all while generating profit.  Apple’s iPod and iTunes opened up a whole new world – 99 cents seemed like a pretty good deal for a song, knowing you were purchasing it legally and had the ability to build a collection on a cool, purposeful device.  I couldn’t lug my desktop computer with my Napster playlists on it to the gym.  But I could strap my iPod Nano with 1,000 songs to my arm while going on a scenic run through San Diego on a business trip.  Today, I turn to Pandora to accompany me on my runs, work days, etc, and to give me exposure to new artists.  While Pandora offers a free service, the company is still able to profit off of advertising.  For an enhanced experience, many consumers are willing to pay a nominal fee for Spotify or Grooveshark.  Or consider Sirius radio – why would consumers be willing to pay for radio?  I for one am a subscriber primarily for the Howard Stern Show.  He has built up a community of listeners who would feel like they are missing out if no longer getting access to him daily.  And through OnDemand programming, he has found an additional stream of revenue for his brand.

While Lessig is correct in targeting copyright laws as a dysfunction in the piracy dilemma, there are intangible aspects that should be prioritized as part of the solution.  I’m unsure of the subliminal effects the criminalization had on me as a young pirate and believe we shouldn’t hold our breath while the legal system enacts efficient and effective copyright laws.  Copyright is an ongoing social negotiation that will be endlessly revised (Lethem).  Instead, technology and the industries at-hand need to stay a step ahead of the demand – continuously crafting new ways to enhance the user experience, serve new purpose and make one feel as if he/she is part of a community by adopting the new product or service.  Being able to monetize your product in innovative ways, a la Apple and iTunes, doesn’t hurt either.  And while there will always be a minority trying to cheat the system, from my viewpoint as a member of Gen Napster, the majority will always seek to do what simply makes sense.

 Works Cited

Larry Lessig: Laws that Choke Creativity. Web. 15 Nov 2007.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence” Harpers Magazine Web, Feb. 2007.