Despite the success of Spotify and its competitors, music sharing still hasn’t caught up to what Napster offered before being neutered by the courts, that service’s founders, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, said today.
During a on-stage discussion at South by Southwest here, Parker and Fanning argued that though new technologies and licensing models finally allow music lovers to legally access and discover vast collections of songs online, even the best new services are still philosophically behind what Napster originally offered its users.
Parker, who appeared earlier this week alongside former U.S. vice president Al Gore to promote political activism online, is one of technology’s most prolific entrepreneurs. After co-founding Napster, he went on to co-found Plaxo, become Facebook’s founding president, and then invested in and ultimately joined the board of Spotify. Now, he and Fanning, who also helped found Snocap, Rapture, and most recently Path, have a new stealthy startup, called Airtime.
Unfortunately, SXSW attendees who showed up hoping to hear more about Airtime were left disappointed as the two barely mentioned their venture.
But Parker and Fanning, who were interviewed at SXSW by documentarian and VH1 writer Alex Winter, seemed nostalgic for the groundbreaking work they did as teenagers on Napster before lawsuits and a court decision grounded the company.
It’s frustrating,” Parker said. “We’d figured so much of this out in 1998 and 1999, but the industry wasn’t ready.”
Of course, a big part of the limits on today’s music-sharing services comes from the licensing issues that arose in the late ’90s and in the years immediately after. And even at Napster, the two said, the company’s development was hampered by the legal issues that cropped up as soon as the record labels figured out what was happening to them.
“Suddenly the company was taken over by lawyers,” Parker said of Napster. “Our CEO was an attorney. The lesson learned is, your CEO should never be an attorney. It became a law firm…at one point, a [large] percentage of the employees were attorneys. The legal case was dictating the product, not the other way around.”
Al Gore and Sean Parker took the stage to tell an adoring crowd of several thousand that though they should be proud of the mass Internet activism that derailed the Stop Online Piracy Act
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