Cyber War

US Digital Millennium Copyright ActFor me, one of the most interesting cyber wars occurred between Napster and the music industry. Napster begin as a file-sharing service created by two 18 year olds: Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. With the goal to facilitate the transfer of MP3 files by providing an open and user-friendly interface for everyone to be able to use, Napster quickly acquired millions of users within its first year of being launched. While file sharing was around during this time with services such as IRC, Hotline, and Usenet, Napster was different by focusing on a different niche and tailoring its product to the common man. After quickly taking off and gaining traction on the internet and college campuses, Napster had over 80 million registered users and reported that as much as 61% of external network traffic consisted of the transfer of MP3 files. Napster even overloaded high-speed networks on college networks all over the nation with its music-transferring service. The transfer of copyrighted audio files, or music, with people all over the world was made possible not only with Napster’s technology and UI, but with the Internet. With leaked singles and free music, the music industry quickly became unhappy with Napster. Napster served as the middle-man in infringing on artist’s copyrights by providing the medium to do so; while the users were accountable, Napster took the beating. This was the beginning to a cyber war.

Should Napster have been sued for contributing to copyright infringement? I think so, although the next steps that were taken by the courts were questionable in my opinion. Even more questionable is the individual on the other side of the computer actually doing the infringing–shouldn’t they be held more accountable for actually doing the illegal action?

All Napster was doing was providing a directory of music that was uploaded to their site; Napster employees did not even upload the content themselves. While they did provide the portal to do this and uploaded the music files to their servers, they were not claiming the content to be theirs, nor were they selling that content. In my opinion, they merely served as facilitators of an exchange, which may in hindsight have required some type of oversight from the music industry, which they did not have. Citing the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Napster was sued by the RIAA, the trade organization that represents the recording industry in the United States. In an attempt to appeal the court case, Napster makes the case that have developed and are ready to implement an algorithm that identifies 99.4% of infringed material and therefore could prevent the transfer of this material using their technology. To the courts, 99.4% was not good enough. They wanted 100%. Napster said if they can make it 100%, they would; to Napster, this case was no longer a war on copyright infringement, this was a war on file-sharing technologies. If Napster were to implement this technology and follow a Google-like procedure in taking down any flagged materials that are copyrighted by the music industry, I don’t see what the problem with this is. It seems that YouTube is quite similar–although with more original material–but still allows for the same problem. While YouTube does not allow for people to download music from it, it does allow people to upload content, which may be copyright infringement if the individual does not have permission to use the music. YouTube uses an algorithm, very similar to the one Napster identified in the court case, to identify infringed material and prevent its use on YouTube. You can even use YouTube links to download material illegally, which contributes to copyright infringement, similar to Napster. This seems like a similar case, yet the courts have let YouTube slide. Interesting.

The last issue is always a hard question to tackle. Should the punishment be different for the person who commits an illegal act compared to the person who contributes or allows for the person to commit the illegal act? Take an employee of a store closing it and locking it. Let’s say that this employee has the key, and decides to leave the key outside for anyone to take. If someone takes the key and accesses the store and steals stuff, who’s liable? The person who gave the person access or the ability to steal stuff, or the thief himself? Some say the thief would steal regardless, others say that not only did Napster provide this portal, but they stored this portal on their servers, putting it in their ownership. The government decided to punish Napster most by forcing them to file for Chapter 11 and pay many players who may have been affected millions of dollars. I’d argue that while their music may have not sold as well, it was definitely popularized and led to concerts being more well-attended and expensive. I think there was a makeup for it in the market, so I don’t think Napster should have been hit as hard as they were. The only thing is, with the internet, its hard to punish 80 million people. It’s easy to punish one person though.

Welcome to, or Bye-bye from the Internet, Napster.

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