Contested Codes: The Social Construction of Napster

David Spitz

David Spitz

In the years since its inception, some interpretations of the software program known as “Napster” have been inscribed into laws, business plans, and purchasing decisions while others have been pushed to the fringes. This paper examines how and why certain assumptions about Napster gained consensus value whereas others did not. The analytical approach involves an examination of discourses about Napster in several arenas – legal, economic, social, and cultural – and is informed by a conceptualization of Napster as an ongoing encounter between, rather than the accomplishment of, inventor(s), institution(s), and interest(s). While acknowledging the importance of empirical examinations of Napster’s impact on firms and markets, as well as the proscriptive advice which it supports, the focus here is on providing a contextualized understanding of the technology as an object whose meanings were contested and ultimately resolved, or at least stabilized, within, across, and through a broader systems of power and structured interests.

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