[Editor’s Note:  The views expressed here are solely those of Ross Kaplan, and do not represent Edina Realty, Berkshire Hathaway (“Berkshire”), or any other entity referenced. Edina Realty is a subsidiary of Berkshire.]

Napster — the copyright infringing, file-sharing, early Internet darling of the ’90’s — may have deserved to die.  See, “copyright infringement.”

But, exactly how it died is instructive for western Democracies combating “fake news,” Russian collusion, and other existential threats.

Namely, Napster didn’t fall prey to legal sanctions, although those clearly exacted a (financial) toll.

Rather, it succumbed to sabotage.

Strategy #1

For those too young to recall, the music industry correctly viewed Napster as an existential threat, and first tried to take it down through legal process.

Specifically, it got Congress to pass especially onerous civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement, then sicced its lawyers on unsuspecting Grandmas in Peoria illegally availing themselves of the service.

It didn’t work.

Not only did that strategy create a public relations backlash — bankrupting Grandma made the industry look like a bully — it was ineffective:  there were always another 10 — or 1,000 — Napster users out there to prosecute.

Call it digital “whack a mole.”

Fake News Files

At some point, the music industry clearly regrouped, and hit upon a vastly more effective, surprisingly zen-like strategy.

Namely, it used Napster’s open architecture against it.

Specifically, the industry (or its proxies) uploaded millions of corrupt MP3 files to Napster, rendering it useless (visitors who opened the corrupt files searching for a usable one were treated to a blast of static).

Think of it as putting digital sugar in Napster’s gas tank.

Walls, Borders . . . & Locked Gas Caps

Fast forward to the 2016 election — and the looming 2018 midterms.

We all know (too well) what President Trump is doing to keep out illegal aliens.

What’s less clear to me is what he’s doing to safeguard the integrity of our democracy — specifically, both the levers of government (“hard targets”), as well as the social and electronic media (“soft targets”) that enable an open system to function.

My three-part advice to President Trump:  1) acknowledge (vs. deny) the issue; 2) instruct the federal government to assist the 50 Secretaries of State in their efforts to harden voting systems, ballot boxes, and the like in time for November and beyond; and 3) direct Congress to update the laws governing Americans’ privacy, while regulating the kinds of information Facebook and other social media can sell and disseminate.

There’ll be plenty of time to build a border wall once those steps are taken . . .

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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