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Copyright violation – Internet

The ease with which it is possible to distribute unauthorized copies of protected material, the number of persons to whom it may be distributed, and the number of times, and cover of anonymity would show the precarious position of the owners of intellectual property rights, particularly copyright and in music. With increased availability of “broadband” internet access allowing for faster downloads and the companion development of higher and better levels of compression, the motion picture industry is rapidly approaching the Internet piracy problem confronting the software, video game and music industries.

The Napster Case

A&M Records, Inc. and Others v Napster, Inc. and Others[1]

The core of the complaint, before the District Court, Northern District of California, of the plaintiffs, leading record companies, in this case was, that the arrangement under which Napster had enabled its subscribers to transfer or, to be specific, upload or download, the plaintiffs’ copyrighted music, from the computer of one subscriber to that of another, in a format known as MP3 format, aiding infringement of their copyrights in the music thus transferred.

The arrangement enabled users registered with Napster to find music files of their choice in the libraries on the hard disks of other users and request them to download that music directly from that host’s computer to the requesting subscribers’ computer. The transfer of the music would be done between subscribers and not by Napster, but only through the Napster arrangement, containing the music one wanted. Napster did not possess any license in any of the copyrighted material to distribute them in any manner.

Anyone wanting to avail of this method of obtaining music of his or her choice, avoiding time and expense, had to become a user of Napster, by downloading Napster’s proprietary file-sharing software free of charge via its Internet website. Then by logging on to the Napster System he would be able to share MP3 music files with other users who were logged on to the system. Napster’s free Music Share software featured a browser interface, search engine and chat functions operating in conjunction with Napster’s online network of servers.

The software also enabled users to compile and store lists of other account holders’ user names and could be used to play and categorize audio files, which users could store in specific file directories on their hard drives. The directories, which allowed account holders to share files on Napster, constituted the “user library”.

Napster users were uploading or downloading MP3 files, containing copyrighted music, without payment to each other, Napster, or the copyright owners who brought the action for infringement of copyright. The records showed that Napster, in offering the free service, ultimately intended to “monetize” its user base.

Approximately 10,000 music files were stated as being shared per second using Napster, and that every second more than 100 users attempted to connect to the system. Napster was aware that Napster users were engaging in unauthorized downloading and uploading of copyrighted music.

The District Court did not accept Napster’s defence of fair use. That Court stated: “Plaintiffs have not shown that the majority of Napster users download music to sell – that is, for profit. However, given the vast scale of Napster use among anonymous individuals, the court finds that downloading and uploading MP3 music files with the assistance of Napster are not private uses.” It granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Napster “from engaging in, or facilitating others in copying, downloading, uploading, transmitting, or distributing plaintiff’s copyrighted musical compositions and sound recordings, protected by either federal or state law, without express permission of the right owner.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreeing with the District Court held that Napster users infringed at least two of the copyright holders’ exclusive rights: the right of reproduction, and distribution. It ruled: “Napster users who upload file names to the search index for others to copy violate plaintiffs’ distribution rights. Napster users who download files containing copyrighted music violates plaintiffs’ reproduction rights.”

As far as Napster was concerned, on its liability as a contributory infringer, the Court of Appeals held that it was necessary to show that under the Napster arrangement, it knew the names of the specific infringing files with copyrighted musical compositions and sound recordings that were available in its system that were being shared and then failed to prevent unlawful distribution. As Napster did not have access to its users’ MP3 files, the Court said, the recording companies ought to give notice to Napster of copyrighted works and files containing such works available on the Napster system before Napster’s duty to disable access to the offending content would arise and that would determine the scope of the injunction that may be ordered against Napster.

[1]United States District Court Northern District of California, 114 F. Supp. 2d 896

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