As any music fan knows, the future of Napster, the biggest free lunch of MP3s on the Net, is still very much in legal limbo. Last week a San Francisco appeals court confirmed a decision made this summer: Napster is knowingly infringing the copyrights of recording artists. The court asked U.S District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel to modify her initial injunction, and she promptly enlisted a former Federal justice to act as a mediator between Napster and the plaintiffs. Napster fans already know what this means: It's time to scarf down as many MP3 files as possible before Napster A) blocks the pirated files; B) starts charging a subscription fee; or C) shuts down completely.

One thing is for sure though: Even if Napster closes its doors tomorrow, it definitely won't be the end of music-file sharing. Let's just think of it as a long preface.

But let me regress a second, back to my college days, when Napster creator Shawn Fanning was just a toddler and all music was analog. I particularly remember Charles Gooding, a serious vinyl hound who specialized in British punk and new wave. Being marooned in the backwoods of Tennessee he couldn't just pop down to the local K-Mart for a quick fix. In search of stuff like Wire, the Pop Group, the Fall and — his favorite — Throbbing Gristle, he would have to order directly from distributors or go on road trips to nearby cities (sometimes traveling five hours). While showing off his prize finds, Charles would rattle off the accompanying collectors' trivia, the labels, the pressing details, etc.