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Michael Robertson finds himself in the precarious position of having to fend off accusations that he’s caved in to the copyright maximalists he’s spent so long critiquing—without eroding the groundwork he’s laid with his new major-label compadres.

DOWN & DIRTY DOT-COM

Harsh Words And Accusations Exchanged
As The Online-Music Soup Heats Up
Have the slew of recent settlements, talks and mergers made the digital-music space more friendly—or more rancorous?

It seems that as terrestrial and online parties come closer to accord on doing business, nerves are a bit, shall we say, frayed.

As Napster's savvy new CEO, Hank Barry, reaches out to the biz, the spotlight has turned to some internal e-mail obtained by the RIAA and presented as part of its case against the attention-grabbing MP3 swappery—and first reported on Inside.com.

Exchanges between co-founders shawn fanning',390,400);">shawn fanning',390,400);">Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker openly discuss primary Napster use as piracy and refer to the company's own outreach to unsigned and independent artists as a way "to distract the RIAA" from its zealous copyright-protection crusade.

The juiciest item was a list compiled by the two young Net pioneers, which includes such hoped-for achievements as "Napster brings about death of the CD," "Record industry may be unwilling to support this transition (gut their bottom line)" and "Record stores (Tower Records) obsoleted."

Such embarrassing revelations throw into shadow Napster's seemingly earnest efforts to pursue "substantial non-infringing uses" (in the wording of the precedent-setting Sony vs. Universal "Betamax" decision) for its technology.

Yet Barry continues to argue for the positive uses of file-swapping applications (like its newly minted pact with hip-hop imprint 75Ark), and Napster rivals like Gnutella and Scour have also aggressively sought permission to offer content (such as the former's video-distribution deal with Sightsound.com) that demonstrates their non-infringing potential.

Even so, Napster is undoubtedly smarting from these revelations of their apparently disingenuous intent.

Meanwhile, MP3.com chief michael robertson',390,400);">michael robertson',390,400);">Michael Robertson, having made history by settling with two of the RIAA-repped music groups that sued his company, took a shot at Napster on behalf of the RIAA; his remarks were included in the same overarching presentation that cited the Fanning-Parker exchanges. In addition to chiding Napster and kindred file-sharing apps for neglecting new music and merely catering to a market for existing hits, Robertson labeled the Web music space "a disaster" during his remarks at the Streaming Media East conference.

Robertson's support of the RIAA, especially against Napster, has already evoked a backlash in some online circles. As a result, he finds himself in the precarious position of having to fend off accusations that he's caved in to the copyright maximalists he's spent so long critiquing—without eroding the groundwork he's laid with his new major-label compadres.

Hence the feisty tone of his speech at the conference, which included jabs at the industry for its "traditional approach," pricing strategies and Chicken-Little technophobia, at e-tailer CDNow for its inability to meet consumer need instantaneously and even at the judgment in his own case (whereby everything can "boil down to one guy in a dress and what he decides").

But Robertson's comments—many of which simply echo views he's articulated for some time—are downright neighborly compared to the recent diatribe of Seagram head edgar bronfman',390,400);">edgar bronfman',390,400);">Edgar Bronfman, Jr., who slammed online piracy at May's Real Conference 2000 in San Jose as "unfair and unjust" and compared it to political oppression. Railing Captain Ahab-like against illicit file-swapping, the scion of Canadian bootleggers predicted the Internet itself would "crack, crumble and collapse" if order was not restored.

Yet Seagram property UMG is said to be talks with Napster about some kind of sweeping Net play, even as Seagram faces acquisition by European behemoth Vivendi.

The Net-music world is beginning to look a whole lot like the old-fashioned record biz, no? Stay tuned—the rumble's just getting started.

WALLEN FOR THE WIN
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CHART FINAL:
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COUNTRY GRAMMYS' ROOTS ARE SHOWING
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THE BRITISH
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