Friday, July 25

Why Napster is stupid

With a title like that, I know you'll be expecting me to hand Napster one of my patented verbal thrashings (if I hand them a verbal thrashing on my blog, does it still count as a "verbal" thrashing?). Yes, I'm pissed at Napster, but not because I dislike the service itself. Let me explain.

I am a Napster To Go subscriber. What's that mean? For $15 a month, I can download as many songs as I want to my computer or my portable music player. As long as my subscription is active, I can play the songs. I can't burn them to a CD or do anything that might remove Napster's tether to the file. (Hey, they're not going to give me five million songs for $15. I get that.)

When you are a Napster To Go subscriber, you can have three computers and three portable music devices attached to your account. That's generous. I can't imagine ever needing something more. However, this is where things start to get ugly.

I have a lot of computers, as you can imagine, but this story really only concerns four of them. I have a desktop computer in my office, one in the family room, a new laptop (well, less than a year old anyway), and an old laptop with funny stripes running down the LCD panel (affectionately named "the craptop"). I don't use the old laptop any longer, because shiny NEW laptop just oozes sexy tech.

Only shiny new laptop died. Fzzt! Back to HP it goes. For the record, HP did fine. I called them on the phone, they figured out immediately that I knew what I was doing and had tried all the correct troubleshooting steps, and just shipped me a box for return. I stuffed the computer in the box, dropped it off with FedEx, and HP turned it around in one day. It was gone four days (well, six, but that includes a weekend).

Between the time that HP shipped me the box and the time I shipped the laptop to HP, I took a family vacation to the west coast of Florida. Not wanting to be without email, I blew the dust off the craptop and took it along. As luck would have it (that's a silly saying, since it's almost always used to describe an UNlucky circumstance, like now), it rained every single hour of every single day we were at the beach. Spending a lot of time in the hotel room, I wanted to play some of my songs previously downloaded from Napster on the craptop.

Aha! A problem! The three computers Napster recognizes for me are the office desktop, the family desktop, and the shiny new laptop. Craptop has been "deactivated," which is apparently Napster-speak for "don't even THINK about it!" I could load the Napster software, I could sign in to the service, and I could even play a song streamed live. Of course, that last part is no big deal because ANYONE can browse to and play songs streamed live. But the hotel room internet connection was crappier than the striped LCD in the craptop, so I wanted to play a song I'd downloaded. Before Napster would do that, I had to deactivate one of my three computers and activate the craptop.

No trouble, that's easy. But which computer to choose? I didn't want to deactivate shiny new laptop, because hope sprang eternal in some part of my body that it would return from HP with its data intact. (Stop laughing! Yes, I mean you!) So I deactivated the family computer. Now my three computers are shiny new laptop, old craptop with the striped LCD, and the computer in my office. Are you keeping up with this? Good!

Back from vacation, shiny new laptop is returned to me. HP replaced the main board and the hard drive. (What the hell was left? The LCD? Why don't they just admit "Hey, we don't fix these things, we just rebuild them with the two parts guaranteed to fix anything that's wrong and ship them back to you.") Anyway, my data was history. (Hey! I can HEAR that laughing! Stop it.) I'm reloading software to it, and we come to Napster and its BRICK WALL OF DOOM!

Napster doesn't see the shiny new laptop as being the same computer it was before. No surprise there. With a new main board and hard drive, it IS a different computer. I'm told to delete the computer's previous activation and let Napster detect it as a new machine. Only it turns out you're permitted ONE deactivation EVERY THIRTY DAYS. If you've got one of those "wonk wonk waaah" sound files, now would be the time to play it. (That wooden clunking noise you hear is my head slamming into my desk.)

Believe me, I understand why they do it. The entire reason behind "activating" computers and portable devices with one of these subscription accounts is how subscribers download songs and can play them for up to thirty days without having to reconnect and reauthorize the subscription. That's the whole point of it. You can play your downloaded subscription songs even when your internet connection is not available.

I suppose somewhere inside of Napster there is someone who imagines that if subscribers were allowed to turn on and off computers and portable music devices as they pleased, Napster would sell precisely ONE Napster To Go subscription that would have its user name and password posted on the net, and the entire world would share it. Just deactivate the last guy's computer, activate yours, synchronize the media rights for the songs you've downloaded, and disconnect. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

But there is a huge gap between what happened to me (one computer died, causing some juggling of the computers on my account) and the sort of wholesale, rapid-fire activation and deactivation in the doomsday scenario I just described. The process involves my computer connecting over the internet with their computers, so they ultimately have a count of how many times this is happening and over what period of time. Surely their computers could determine that I've had an active account for YEARS with no unusual activities on it, and this sudden burst of swapping around might result from a completely natural situation like having one's shiny new laptop go "fzzt."

But no, the easy way is to say one deactivation every thirty days. So I have to wait about two weeks to delete the bad entry for shiny new laptop, so it can get reconnected. Wait! It gets better. It will be ANOTHER thirty days after THAT before I can delete the craptop and get the family room computer activated again.

I know that right now someone is saying "Just get your music off the bit torrents, man. All the cool kids are doing it." Yeah. But I'm not cool, nor am I a kid, and as a writer and radio geek I have a serious appreciation for intellectual property rights.

So instead, I do what every 21st century geek does. I blog about it.

Stupid Napster!

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