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"I don't think a day goes by when people don't recognize me. I mean, it's been good for getting girls. It's a great way to break the ice--'Hey, I'm the Napster guy'--but it's hard to move past that."
He has a girlfriend now, a fellow 19-year-old who he is sure likes him for him and not for Napster. He won't give her name, and most of his co-workers don't even know about her. "When I'm around her," Fanning says, "I don't have to think about the press or about Napster."
Since the lawsuit began, Napster has become enveloped in something of a siege mentality, an us-vs.-them attitude toward the record labels and the press that has forced Fanning to retreat even farther into his shell. He has to monitor carefully what he says to whom and even what clothes he wears. "The cdc [the Cult of the Dead Cow, a hacker collective] guys sent me a shirt, and the lawyers told me I shouldn't wear it," he says. "It's just so tightly controlled."
Meanwhile, there is another big idea he is dying to work out, another program he has been thinking about and tinkering with that, he says, could be bigger than Napster. What he is seeking to recapture, he will tell you, are those days back in Hull, when it was just Fanning and Napster. When there were no lawsuits and no one to answer to and he was left alone to work on this little program of his, this idea that he would launch into the world.
Back then, he thought he would just write the application and set it free--his name would be embedded deep in the source code and known only to the other hackers and programmers who care about such things. He misses that simple time, before magazine covers and TV interviews and Britney Spears and having to put on a goofy black suit and necktie to appear in court.
"I'm going to get back there, to that office, to where I'm just alone and able to work something out," Fanning vows. And then he picks up his guitar again and starts strumming. He shrugs. He has another idea, he keeps saying; he has this idea that he needs to work out.
--With reporting by Chris Taylor/San Francisco and David E. Thigpen/Chicago