The Legality Of Mp3

’s Essay, Research Paper

You can hardly own a computer today and not know about MP3 files. MP3 is shorthand for Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) 1 Layer 3. It is a compression technique that makes large files smaller for easier storage and downloading. They are widely used and have become very popular recently, especially with the emergence of the file-sharing program Napster. This file-sharing program allows people to trade music files over the Internet for free. This brings up problems with Intellectual Property (IP) and copyright laws. IP is the generic descriptor of the work product of authors and inventors. In the United States, intellectual property is protected by copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret law.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a lawsuit against Napster in December 1999. The association, which represents the major U.S. record companies, is seeking up to $100,000 in damages for each copyright-protected song allegedly exchanged illegally using Napster software. No music trades actually take place on computers owned by Napster. Nor does the company monitor users to see whether they are trading copyrighted material; however it does warn users that MP3 files could be illegally copied and that distributing such material is illegal. Napster believes it is covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA was specifically designed by congress to give a safe harbor to Internet Service Providers (ISP) so they are not liable for their users activities. It does not matter whether the ISP has any knowledge of user misuse or not.

Napsters only alleged liability is for contributory or vicarious infringement. You cannot have contributory or vicarious without having some underlying infringement. When Napster users engage in noncommercial sharing of music noncommercial copying of music Is that an activity of copyright infringement? Napster attorney, David Boies says no, because this type of noncommercial consumer copying is recognized as Fair Use under common law theories and doctrines, under the Supreme Court s criteria. Fair Use is the use of a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research as permitted under 17 U.S.C. sec. 107.5 The Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) directly states that noncommercial copying by consumers is lawful. The 9th circuit court in RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia Systems, in 1999, read the act as saying all noncommercial consumer copying is lawful. The word all was the opinion and interpretation of the court. The defense appeared to suffer a blow when the U.S. Copyright Office chimed in on the case, in a brief, co-submitted with the civil division of the Justice Department and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The government’s brief argued that Napster’s service is not protected by the Home Recording Act, in part because the Act does not apply to music that is copied using PCs and hard drives. Napster attorney David Boies, in a brief statement, called the government’s position “incorrect.”

According to the 1984 decision in Sony vs. Universal Studios, Napster cannot be held responsible if some users engage in copyright infringement because Napster unquestionably involves substantial non-infringing uses. In the Sony case the entertainment industry tried to stamp out VCR s. The Supreme Court ruled that even though VCR s were predominantly used to copy copyrighted materials, because there were substantial uses that didn t infringe copyrights, they could not find that Sony was guilty of contributory or vicarious infringement. The recording industry tries to argue that it should be which use of the technology predominates, but this has never been the law. In the Sony case it was clear that more than 80% of the use was copyright infringement and this did not make a difference. There are non-infringing ways, which Napster is used. One way, in the Sony case the Supreme Court ruled that there did not have to be any actual substantial non-infringing uses. It only said that the technology merely had to have the capabilities of substantial non-infringing uses. Another way, the 9th Circuit Court said, space shifting, where a listener copies songs that they already own, onto more portable media. The last non-infringing way to distribute music is if the music is not copyrighted at all, the copyright has been lost, or whose copyright holder does not object.

The 9th Circuit Court has made it clear that if copyright holders use their copyrights for anti-competable purposes to try to gain control over something they do not control directly through their copyrights that is copyright misuse. Boies believes that the RIAA has set out to control the Napster Media. They have written documents saying they want to shut Napster down and then take over the technology. They have pooled 90% of the copyright on music. Those kinds of activities constitute copyright misuse and if they are engaged in copyright misuse, they cannot enforce their copyrights making their whole argument worthless. This copyright misuse may even bring a case against the RIAA. While the Napster case has many sides to argue from, most of the ones in this paper are for Napster. This is only one case of the legality of MP3 s others include, and Gnutella. There are others but these are the major ones. Look into the news to keep up to date with what is going on with the future of these sites.


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