It didn't hurt that there's a new outlaw in town. "When Mp3.com got outmaneuvered by Napster," says Wice, "Napster became the new bad guy, and Mp3.com became someone who needed to cooperate." Newsweek cover boy Napster allows music lovers to surf each others' hard drives and download the contents free; Mp3.com was more of a free-music clearinghouse, but really wanted to be its own little label. It wasn't happening. Now Mp3.com's revolutionary days look to be over "The digital music space is still in its infancy. We look forward to working with Warner to expand its boundaries," said CEO Michael Robertson and its days as a dot-com advance guard for the Big Five are about to begin. Napster, here they come.
As the music-industry bigfoots tiptoe trepidatiously into the digital age, they're obeying an old rule: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Witness Warner Music (corporate cousin of TIME.com) and BMG's settlement Thursday with their old young nemesis, MP3.com, over copyright infringements. The free-music upstart that wanted to turn the industry on its ear is now in bed with two of the industry's Big Five (the rest are expected to follow soon). The outlaw has been deputized. "Whenever the record industry sues someone, you know they're then going to make a deal," says TIME Digital writer Nathaniel Wice. "The defendants turn out to be the technology partners they need to participate in the inevitable, which is the digital delivery of music."