Maybe it was inevitable. Once someone designed software that compresses music so that it can be sent on the Internet, someone else was sure to devise a way of making such files easily available to everone.
But the inevitability doesn't make the problems caused by all this any easier to solve. When a company called Napster.com turned itself into a "search engine" for such music on the Internet - linking millions of people eager to trade favorite songs - the commercial recording industry felt the walls come tumbling down.
What about copyright laws? What about society's interest in encouraging creativity by allowing artists to profit from their work?
Those questions have to be addressed, even as the momentum generated by Napster appears nearly unstoppable. The Internet is vastly expanding the market for music, though no one has figured out a way to make money from the freely traded songs as yet - including Napster.
The industry's response, not surprisingly, is to sue. It foresees plummeting CD sales (though the high price of CDs is one reason the new software, known as MP3, has taken off). On the other hand, the Internet could popularize an artist's work at something approaching the speed of light.
The economics, and ethics, of this are lagging behind the technology. But they will catch up.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society