Napsters Hard Times

Co-founder Ritter reflects on MP3 site, life of peer to peer

Jordan ritter, co-founder of Napster Inc., the popular music file sharing company, is at another startup venture, this time in the financial software services arena. Although Ritter left Napster last November to join Round1, a financial automation system developer, he remains passionate about his former company, especially in these, the companys trying times. eWeek Editor at Large and Editor in Chief of John Dodge met up with Ritter at Demo 2001 in Phoenix the day after the momentous court decision against Napster. The architect behind the company mused on the ruling and what it means for the peer-to-peer movement. The following is an excerpt.

eWeek: What was your reaction to the ruling?

Ritter: I was really saddened by it. We put a lot of hard work into the company, the concept, the revolution that we drove. It was really difficult. We felt like we let down the millions of users that really took hold, and Im really saddened by it.

eWeek: What is the impact of the ruling, and what will be the impact of the ruling on other sites like Gnutella?

Ritter: The impact of the ruling overall is pretty far-reaching. I mean, there were a lot of players that were trying to get into the same space that have been waiting to see what would happen with the decision—CuteMX, iMesh, Gnutella—on a very macro level, other folks. And I think it really sends a message that the technology is ready but the business is not, the government is not. So, unfortunately, Napster really turns out to be a technology really ahead of its time, I think.

eWeek: What do you think has to be done to protect the music companies and the artists copyright?

Ritter: Well, thats a very large question, one that many people are working on. It cant really be summed up in one statement. I can just say that were still looking at a rather juvenile technology, and were trying to find a business model that fits that technology. In order to accommodate the rights of artists, many people are working on digital rights management systems. Theres the movement to come up with a global encryption scheme for embedding data inside of music streams that is removable. There are a lot of efforts out there to try and do this, but so far no ones been able to come up with a solution.

eWeek: What do you think is next for Napster?

Ritter: You know, I think Napsters strategy might be to just continue the same process that theyve been doing. Its a legal battle in the court system; theres a set of processes you follow to appeal. I imagine that theyre going to appeal and just keep on the same road.

eWeek: Now youre with Round1, and it says up there on your placard, "Private Capital Automation System." Whats that?

Ritter: Well, what were demoing here is basically an automated workflow process for financial markets. At a macro level, it allows people to follow an automated process, a customizable process, to conduct funding of their companies. So inside the context of, say, Napster ... you know, the funding process of Napster was really difficult. We had to talk to so many different people, we had to get the same ideas across, getting meetings organized, getting everybody together, and getting the same information out was really hard. It was really an inefficient process. What were trying to do is basically bring efficiency and information transparency by bringing the same information to the table—everybody reports the same information and brings a process that makes this efficient.

eWeek: Final question, back to the Napster decision. What is the impact of the court ruling [last week] on peer-to-peer technology?

Ritter: Thats an excellent question in the context of the panel discussion. Peer to peer really isnt Napster. Napster is just an application of peer to peer. I think peer to peer is a great methodology for how you architect applications, how you architect infrastructures, and I dont really think it impacts the viability of peer to peer as an applicable methodology.