Presidential candidates drawn into Napster debate

George W. Bush and Al Gore reveal where they stand on the issue that has taken the Net by storm: file swapping and copyright claims.

3 min read
We have some idea where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on health care, foreign policy and social security. But what about Napster and copyright claims, the issue that has taken the Net by storm?

In a question posted Tuesday morning on the Rolling Cyber Debate hosted by political Court: Shut down Napster information Web site Web White & Blue, a reader identified as Mary of Front Royal, Va., asked the candidates their views on file sharing and intellectual property protections.

"Where would your administration draw the line regarding freedom to access content vs. copyright infringement?" Mary wanted to know.

Gore and Bush each gave a quick three-paragraph response calling for a compromise that would allow Napster-like technologies to flourish while compensating artists' creative work.

But a glimmer of each candidate's campaign personality emerged in the written answer.

Democratic candidate Gore, who has been criticized for making statements with out-of-place references to his rural childhood, did not disappoint.

While complimenting Napster as a terrific innovation and sounding off about protecting the rights of artists, he awkwardly stretched to mention his hometown roots, describing a region "next to the songwriting capital of the world: Nashville, Tenn."

"I think that protecting a songwriter's intellectual property or any artist's creative rights is really important," he began simply, then concluded with a history lesson referencing the "huge controversy" that erupted "years ago" when radio was invented.

For his part, Republican candidate Bush sought to come off as a tech-savvy guy easily conversant with overused buzzwords and cliches.

"The Napster case typifies some of the thorny questions we'll face as our nation shifts from bricks-and-mortar economy to one where our most valuable commodity is information and creative content," he wrote.

The record industry is embroiled in a lawsuit to shut down Napster, which it alleges is a haven for music piracy that enables members to copy and swap songs without authorization from copyright holders.

In the end, however, Bush refused to take a stand on the Napster case, saying only that "we must find a way to apply our copyright laws...while at the same time adapting to and utilizing new technologies to deliver media to consumers in an Information Age."

Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan has not yet posted an answer, and Green Party member Ralph Nader has turned down requests to participate.

The cyberdebates are hosted by Web White & Blue, a nonpartisan, nonprofit consortium of 17 Internet sites and news organizations, including Yahoo, America Online, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Funded by the Markle Foundation, a New York-based philanthropic organization, the Rolling Cyber Debate is the first online presidential debate and claims to reach about 70 million people on the Net. It features a message of the day from the candidates and a question posed by a reader.

Responses can be written, come in the form of audio and video, or simply link to the candidate's Web sites. A single rebuttal to opponent responses is also allowed. None were provided to the Napster question.

The cyberdebate runs through Election Day, Nov. 7, and is updated every 30 minutes Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT.