Anti-Napster Ruling Draws Mixed Reaction
Napster is guilty of copyright infringement, and that makes some people happy, others mad.
The Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday that
Like Napster's confused fate, the mixed reaction to today's ruling raises questions of the legality of file sharing and the questionable future of myriad Napster clones.
Reactions depend upon which side of the Napster fence you sit. Opponents
of Napster, such as the
Others in the music industry have
The Consumer Electronics Association is "greatly disappointed" in the ruling, which impacts the "development of new technologies," says Jeff Joseph, vice president, communications for CEA.
"If consumers have to pay for every download, it could have a chilling effect on current technology such as MP3 players and digital recorders," Joseph says.
Larger questions loom for the music industry that has seen Napster
knockoffs prosper on the coattails of Napster's success. Peer-to-peer services
The court upheld the findings of the lower court almost universally, holding that Napster's service is not protected by fair use. The court also said the service is guilty of two kinds of copyright infringement, has failed to police its system in an attempt to stop the spread of copyrighted works, and does substantial harm to record companies.
"Napster, by its conduct, knowingly encourages and assists the infringement of [record company] copyrights," the court wrote in its decision.
The ruling is the result of a lawsuit brought by the RIAA on behalf of
the five major record labels--BMG Entertainment,
The RIAA had asked the court to find the company guilty of both contributory and vicarious copyright infringement and to shut down the service because it was causing its member companies irreparable harm. The trading of MP3 files, it said, amounts to stealing because it lets users who have not purchased songs download, play, and store them. The RIAA charged that Napster executives knew infringement was taking place and were contributing to it by providing the service.
The Napster service lets users search for MP3 music files on the computers of other users online and download the tracks they want directly from those users, bypassing any central servers, a technique called peer-to-peer computing. The lack of central servers in the system is at the heart of Napster's defense. Because no copyrighted material resides on company servers--which only house directories of files, not the files themselves--Napster argued it was not liable for any infringement being committed.
It can't be held liable, the company further argued, because in trading files its users are simply exercising their right to fair use. Fair use is a consumer right that allows private, noncommercial trading of copyrighted materials among friends and family.
CEA supports Napster's fair use arguments.
"[CEA] can make an argument that those uses--general file sharing--falls into fair use," CEA's Joseph says.
"We recognize that there is a legitimate business here, and legitimate property should be protected," Joseph says. "But rights that existed in the analog age [such as copying cassette tapes] should transfer to the digital age. As a general principle we think that's a good starting point."
Napster further argued that the RIAA's own figures show that music sales increased in 2000 and that Napster, therefore, is not causing harm but rather is spurring sales.
Judge Marilyn H. Patel disagreed and
Internet industry organization
Dismissing the DMCA from this case could mean Internet service providers would be liable for illegal sharing of copyrighted material by their users.
One of the more telling stories of division in the Napster case is reaction among recording artists.
Manager Terry McBride, who represents Barenaked Ladies, Dido, and Sarah McLachlan, says he is pleased with the court's ruling.
"I'm thankful copyrights are going to be protected," McBride says. Recognizing that even if Napster is eventually forced to shut down or becomes something less, the ability to protect copyrights is still daunting. "The subscription model is inevitable; the question is what it is going to look like. Now I hope we can move forward and try to find a way to make it work for the artists."
Others think Napster has contributed to their success and the spirit of music.
"Napster can't be shut down," says Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, a pro-Napster musician. "The Napster-ization of music is an inevitable scenario. If it's not Napster, it will be any one of the ten different music-swapping programs." Rather than trying to curb music-swapping online, he promotes the creation of new licensing schemes. Miller is one of several pro-Napster musicians, along with Limp Bizkit and Ben Folds Five.
Besides BMG, music companies such as
And other file-sharing services have faced a similar challenge. After
closing down its file-sharing services due to copyright infringement issues,
Halasy says he thinks that adding copyright protection technology will put the new Scour service in a better position to compete with Napster.
Napster, which has an estimated 60 million users, was founded by Northeastern University dropout Shawn Fanning in 1999.