Chuck D Praises Napster At Congressional Hearing

Informational committee session intended for e-commerce, copyright-protection legislation.

WASHINGTON — Rapper and Napster supporter Chuck D called downloadable music "the radio of the new millennium" in testimony Wednesday (May 24) before a congressional committee studying online music sharing and distribution.

"So many artists don't get a chance to be on the radio or MTV, or be on a major label," Chuck D said. "This is how they get heard. Why would you wanna deny them that?"

But Napster critics — such as heavy-metal band Metallica and rapper Dr. Dre, who are suing the San Mateo, Calif., company for copyright infringement — claim the MP3-trading software allows users to acquire music illegally. Napster links users online, allowing them to search each others' MP3 collections and download near-CD-quality songs from users' hard drives without paying for the songs.

Napster proponents view the service as a way for unknown bands to be heard. Napster opponents, such Tommy Boy Records CEO Tom Silverman, contend it facilitates intellectual-property theft.

"The current culture of the Internet can be described as a culture of infringement," Silverman testified. "This culture of infringement is based on the notion that use of the Internet — because it is new and exciting and makes copying and distribution easy, fast and cheap — somehow makes the copying and distribution of copyrighted material acceptable. It's not."

But Chuck D said he champions the site for what it offers signed and unsigned artists. "I can get my music out this way, but more importantly, guys who don't have a record deal can be heard worldwide," he said.

The rapper dismissed concerns about artists' or record companies' revenue lost to MP3 trading via Napster.

"The big four control so much of the business, that as an artist, I got a major beef," he said. "This system needs to be eradicated, and we must start from scratch."

But Silverman said many Tommy Boy artists are afraid even to share their works in progress with label representatives who regularly work with them, fearing their records will be traded on Napster before the final product is on store racks.

Others testifying before the Committee on Small Business hearing included Vice President Peter Harter and Webnoize analyst Ric Dube.

The committee has been looking at e-commerce issues for several months. Its findings are expected to be used by the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, which is preparing e-commerce and copyright-protection legislation.