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Culture

For the Love of Napster

I had no interest last night in getting spiffed up to attend Wired's Readers Raves awards ceremony, but the preteens who manage the DuBaud household, and this column, insisted.

    I had no interest last night in getting spiffed up to attend Wired's Readers Raves awards ceremony, but the preteens who manage the DuBaud household, and this column, insisted. Somehow they managed to get a tie around my neck and shove me into a cab in time to catch the last half of the show.

    "Come on, Skinny!" urged my 12-year-old son Vermel's sartorially adept classmate Jai Pegue, fastening the tie exuberantly. "Beck's going to do an acoustic set after dinner!"

    Beck--a musician, I gather--turned out to have some competition on the premises. We arrived at the Regency Theater in San Francisco just as chanteuse fatale and RIAA scourge Courtney Love was presenting Napster enfant terrible Shawn Fanning with the award for Best Music Site, introducing the company (not the man) as "my next husband."

    Fanning gave a brief acceptance speech, thanking the "Napster community" and its 35 million members. But before he could escape the stage, Love shouted after him: "And Shawn's going to figure out a way to pay us real soon, right? We're going to get us some e-commerce!"

    Fanning and other Napster folk executed a clean sweep last night, pocketing everything they were nominated for: Best Music Site, Most Innovative Web Start-up, Best Guerilla Marketing (besting not only the Blair Witch Project and Ask Jeeves but also Blowthedotoutyour---.com), and, in a personal honor for Fanning, the award for Tech Renegade.

    "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now," Fanning said, accepting his renegade prize. "Trash the stage?"

    "Steal something!" suggested a helpful member of the audience.

    I wish I could report that the Rumor Mill finally received the recognition that has for so many years eluded it, but I cannot. However, my employer, CNET News.com, won for Best News Site, as announced by the self-described "compassionate fascist" presidential candidate, Doonesbury's Ambassador Duke. The computer-animated Duke, whose wisecracks left the audience in a mirthless stupor, took potshots at nominees, singling out The New York Times as "home of all that great Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee reporting" and pre-emptively scratching out the Drudge Report, noting, "Hey, I'm suing that guy!" If only all the tech awards shows were so saucy.

    Speaking of sauce, Courtney Love gave the Rumor Mill an earful at the dinner interlude before the Beck set.

    We had asked her, in reference to her remark about securing payment from Napster, what method of payment she preferred.

    "HE SHOULD CIRCUMVENT THE LABELS AND PAY US DIRECTLY!" Love replied, directly into my right ear. She performed the adroit feat of continuing to walk through the crowd and maintaining a distance between her lips and my ear of less than an inch.

    "NAPSTER ISN'T BREAKING THE LAW! THAT'S MY PREFERRED METHOD OF PAYMENT--BREAKING THE LAW! I BREAK THE LAW EVERY DAY PUTTING MP3S UP ON MY SITE!"

    I wasn't sure I quite understood, but, as I was eager to preserve what was left of the hearing in my right ear, I nodded vigorously.

    "DO YOU HAVE ANY CIGARETTES?!"

    I did not.

    "THAT'S A NICE TIE!" she said, leaving Jai Pegue, who had selected it, swollen with pride.

    Courtney Love apparently isn't Fanning's only admirer. Another suitor interested in making money off the award-laden, lawsuit-riddled business is rumored to be EarthLink, which told the Rumor Mill it had been in "tactical" talks with Fanning's company.

    But Napster, coy outfit that it is, continues to deny that it has held any talks whatsoever with EarthLink or any other Internet service provider.

    All this comes a week after several Web sites reported that Napster was in potential acquisition talks with two unnamed Net service providers.

    EarthLink president Mike McQuary told the Rumor Mill his company has spoken to Napster in the course of trying to determine what the ISP's music strategy would be.

    "We're trying to figure out how best to deliver digital music," McQuary said. "We've talked to music studios, and technology companies, and we'd put Napster in that category."

    Is EarthLink in talks to acquire Napster? McQuary wouldn't say.

    Napster CEO Hank Barry, another attendee at the Wired awards, is standing by last week's statement on acquisitions: "Napster is not about to be acquired by anyone."

    Maybe not for money. But what about for Love? Meanwhile, how about you and I start our own P2P rumor-sharing service?