Bush, Gore sound off on Napster

Presidential candidates weigh in on the controversy over the Internet music-swapping technology.

You can finally find out what some presidential candidates have to say about the Napster issue.

But that doesn't mean you'll walk away with any clear-cut answers.

Two weeks into the launch of its Rolling Cyber Debate, the Web White & Blue 2000 Web site finally has addressed a tech issue, posting a question from Mary of Front Royal, Va.

Mary wanted to know: "In light of the recent Napster case, what are your views on Internet file-sharing and the protection of intellectual property online? Where would your administration draw the line regarding freedom to access content versus copyright infringement?"

It's the first time the site has posted a tech question. Tech topics have been conspicuously absent from most of the candidate's speeches and television debates -- except for maybe when George W. Bush somehow linked the Columbine shootings to the Internet, or Al Gore said he created it -- and possibly with good reason.

Tech issues are hardly topics that capture the hearts and minds of those much-hyped "swing voters." Be they soccer moms or card-carrying AARP members, the swing voters are more likely to chose a candidate based on issues such as the economy and crime. Most campaigns probably figure that addressing geeky topics such as encryption exports, H1-B visas, and software patent reform isn't a wise use of their time and resources -- however closely tied they are to the pocketbooks of Americans.

Nevertheless, the George W. Bush and Al Gore campaigns - along with Natural Law Party candidate John Hegelin -- took time out to address Napster. Perhaps it's an indication that topics such as digital music and online privacy, topics that hit home with many people, are finally forcing tech into the mainstream political arena.

Still, it was tough to figure out where the major candidates really stand after reading their answers.

The Gore campaign told Mary, "I think Napster is a terrific innovation, but I think we've got to find a way to reconcile this technology with artists' rights." Gore pointed out he's from a region that includes Nashville, "the songwriting capital of the world." Mirroring the answer he gave during a town hall meeting broadcast on MTV, Gore urged a compromise between the two sides.

However, Gore didn't address the fact that the Clinton Administration has effectively sided with the recording industry in its case against Napster, filing a brief that says one of Napster's key arguments isn't valid. However, he does acknowledge that a similar brouhaha broke out when radio came along. "They came up with solutions," he said. (See Yahoo Internet Life's interview with Al Gore for more on his tech views).

Bush's camp, meanwhile, said "the Napster case typifies some of the thorny questions we'll face." Like Gore's answer, Bush's statement urged a balance between artists and consumers. "I do believe we must find a way to apply our copyright laws to ensure that artists, writers and creators can earn a profit from their creations, while at the same time, adapting to and utilizing new technologies to deliver media to consumers in an Information Age." (See ZDNN's interview with George W. Bush for more on his tech views).

The candidate most clearly on Napster's side is the Natural Law party's John Hagelin.

Hagelin's campaign wrote that the same fracas arose with the advent of the tape recorder or VCR: "The owners of existing intellectual properties demand draconian protection, insisting that without it their industries will collapse. Each of these technological advances, however, has in fact resulted in new ways for the movie, television, and music industries to make money."

Instead, Hagelin urged the music industry to adopt a new business model, perhaps similar to a "pay per view" plan.

Reform Party Candidate Pat Buchanan, Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader, Libertarian Party Candidate Harry Browne, and Constitution Party Candidate Howard Phillips did not respond to the question.

From now until the Nov. 7 election, Web White & Blue will continue posting daily questions to the candidates collected from citizens who post them on its member sites.

Web White & Blue has collected more than 2,200 questions from member sites including MSNBC, PBS.com, USAToday.com and Yahoo.com.