The Insider

Brief conversations with very important people

The Insider

Friday, March 18

Who: Shawn Fanning, the man who opened the Pandora's box of digital music with Napster has resurfaced with SNOCAP, a company legitimizing peer-to-peer file-sharing by offering access to authorized downloads. SNOCAP provides services to Universal Music Group and Sony BMG.

Austin Chronicle: For all the progress courts have made in shutting down peer-to-peer sites and that Apple has made in selling downloads, doesn't the digital music landscape still seem like the Wild West?

Shawn Fanning: It does. The challenge is how to create a marketplace where the selection people have come to expect from peer-to-peer is made available while still respecting the copyright holder. Current peer-to-peer systems are limited legally in what they can do for the user. The market needs to be opened to where an authorized peer-to-peer environment offers far beyond the 1 or 2 million tracks that are currently on these services. Then you can integrate the promotional tools for people to learn about new artists and create a way to push content to people with eclectic taste. For every artist there are people who would like them if they could only find them. Great music will find its audience.

AC: But if I'm one of the 1,300 bands here at SXSW, I'm more likely to be interested in getting heard than getting paid.

SF: Right. And with the Napster controversy, there was a lot of talk about the free aspects of the system that overshadowed the value people had in accessing new music. Because access to the music was free and easy, it created a world where a band with good material could propagate on its own because people would suggest it to their friends. I believe that as more services are able to launch retail channels and compensate the rights-holder there will be amazing new systems built to target promotion to people intelligently.

AC: There will always be people that say you can't beat free.

SF: Free systems will always be available. We've always been able to tape off the radio or duplicate tapes or CDs. Free access is always a question of convenience and the quality of what you're getting. That balance will always be a factor as it is with bottled water or any example where people pay for added value. When somebody says, "How can you beat free?" they're not looking at how difficult it is to use those services. I don't think they understand how great these services can be when they're no longer limited with regards to control.

AC: Even if SNOCAP is successful, aren't you always going to be known as the Napster guy?

SF: Maybe. But what I get asked more often is "Are you moving to the dark side?" What they don't realize is that Napster was about a lot more than free music. I didn't believe that when I built the product. I learned it later when people thanked me for helping them find music they'd been looking for forever. What I'm trying to do now is ensure that kind of selection is available to everyone again. Once that barrier is broken I think the market will explode again. I really do.

The SXSW Interview with Shawn Fanning is Friday, March 18, 11am at the Convention Center, Room 18 ABC.

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