iThings Considered

Get Around the Napster Block

Jake Sargent - 2001.03.06

After years of court battles, Napster was finally forced to install screening software on its service last weekend. The software was developed in an effort to keep federal courts from shutting down the hugely popular music-swapping network. No need to fear, music fans, the screening technology is still in its primitive stages, and there are easy ways to get around it.

First, start up Napster and search for your favorite song. It's likely that it'll come up and you'll be able to download it just like in the good ol' days. If your query returns "no results," then your search has been caught by Napster's screening technology. To give you an idea of how effective Napster's music barricade actually is, only 1 of 10 songs that I searched for was blocked.

Don't fret if you want a song that is no longer available on Napster - there is a trick that you can try, and if that doesn't work, many other places that you can look. Start by varying your search terms a bit. For example, if you're searching for Metallica's "Unforgiven," and your query returns no results, drop an 'l" from the spelling of Metallica (Metalica). This search produces over 100 results from other users who have accidentally (or purposefully) misspelled the group's name.

Napster's users aren't the only people who have noticed that its screening technology doesn't work all that well. Both Dr. Dre and Metallica are angry that many of the 200 songs they requested be blocked are still available. Napster has said that making the screening system work effectively won't be easy, but the pressure from the courts and music artists could pick up the pace at which it improves the technology.

As days progress, it will most likely become more challenging to find copyrighted songs on Napster. Many users will get sick of having to make changes to their search queries to turn up results, and Napster will most likely improve its screening system so that it becomes smart enough to catch these small changes in artist names and song titles. This is when we thank Napster for the great times that we've had together - and then scour the Internet for a similar music-swapping service.

Many search engines are reporting that thousands more people have been using the search term "Napster alternative" in the past few days. It's no surprise, either. There are many services that follow the same basic idea as Napster, but they haven't been large enough to get the attention of the Recording Industry Association of America (which is probably a good thing). As Napster becomes less popular for swapping copyrighted songs, its users will switch to these other services.

Mactella is the best Napster alternative for Mac users. It works in a similar way to Napster, but allows you to swap more than just music files. However, its design is not as efficient as Napster, and you can't do an artist/song title search. It's the next best thing and is worth a download. Another alternative is FreeNet, which offers little Mac support at this time.

File-swapping clients aren't the only way to "share" music files. Various websites perform online searches, and although they don't work as well as Napster and Mactella, they are effective. Both Excite and Lycos offer MP3 searches, and AudioFind is another good resource.

The music industry may think that its doing away with MP3s by forcing Napster to screen songs or shut down completely, but the online music sharing community will thrive for many years to come. People say that once a technology has been developed, you can't just back-step and forget about it. The same goes for file swapping; music fans will continually find a way to cheat the record industry, no matter how hard it gets.

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