Oh how I love these discussions....
1 thing up front:
The Americans are sue-crazy, they like to sue for everything..
The service Napster provides is, in my humble opinion, not illegal. Sharing MP3 files can be as legal as sharing your bike, car or anything else you own.
The problem arises when you are sharing files to which you don't own the copyright of. (duh ) Everybody knows you should have that particular song on an original CD, where royalties to the writer and performer have been paid, when downloading a MP3-song (or the song should be royalty free).
In what way can Napster be held responsible/accountable for what users actually use this ervice for? As long as this service (in casu Napster) has put effort in trying to prevent illegal use of the service, I don't think they can be held responsible/accountable for what users are using the service for.
In this regard you cannot hold the manufacturer of cars (eg Ford) accountable for every death caused by its driver. As long as the manufacturer tries its best to prevent this from happening (brakes for instance. When a car wouldn't have brakes (or malfunctioning ones) the manufacturer would be responsible and accountable for every death caused by that car).
The fact that people use this service, the fact that copying has always took place (remember tapes, being it audio or those old computer systems Commodore and MSX) doesn't make it legal. I think that a lot of people will download and/or copy music (or software for that matter) that they wouldn't have bought anyway, though the threshold to buy the album had become higher. A budgetary aspect plays a role as well...once you can afford to buy more you will most likely do so (personally I buy more original cd's now because i can easily afford to).
Yes, the downfall of a sharing service like Napster would be loss to the internet community. Napster is a great way to listen to songs in a private environment before deciding whether to buy the album or not. Also a service like napster enables people to share their homemade files easily, or starting groups who want their music to be known, hoping to get a record contract somewhere. But let us not forget that violating copyrights is still illegal, what would you do if it was your work that was being ripped and 'stolen' like this?
Even though I am not a napster user (and that I am riding a high horse on this one), I do hope the service will continue.