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How Napster Changed Music Piracy

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 10 months ago

Napster’s Online Piracy Revolution

 

When Shawn Fanning developed Napster, an online music-file sharing program, he opened the vulnerable internet to hordes of digital pirates. Unlike pirating techniques that came before it, Napster held an unparalleled selection of music, movies and software, required no expensive technology (other than a computer and internet connection) and, most importantly, was extremely easy to use. Napster and similar peer-to-peer (p2p) programs like KaZaA and Morpheus spawned over 230 million of these digital pirates worldwide, most of whom did not even know they were breaking the law or understood the possible consequences. (RIAA.com, 7/27/2006). The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it easy for record companies, most notably the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade group that represents the United States recording industry, to go after these users, demand monetary reimbursement and bring their cases to light that can result in further legal action.

 

Music piracy has been an issue of concern for music publishers since the first home tape recording machines became available to the market in the 1960s (Gantz & Rochester, 12). Consumers could copy music from their record collection or from radio broadcasts to cassettes and, with the technology and know-how, add voiceovers and create personalized mix tapes. This technology did not pose a threat to the industry for three reasons: first, the audio fidelity of these copies was far from that of the original, second, the recording process was expensive and time-consuming and third, it was not a very popular hobby. In 1976, the industry took its first step in limiting the legality of copying protected works with new technologies, but it wasn’t until 1992 that they really took notice. By then, digital tape recorders became popular among audiophiles and were notably unique in the fact that digital technology enabled them to make unlimited perfect copies (Litman, 59). Congress passed the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act that required digital tape recorder manufactures pay a small royalty to the recording industry, no matter how a prospective customer would use the equipment (Lohmann & Seltzer, 24). Still, technology was expensive and rather complicated.

 

The Internet and Napster eliminated most of these restrictions and also introduced a massive network that opened consumers to more music resources than ever before. At the height of its popularity in February 2001, Napster had 26.4 million unique users (www.comscore.com, 7/20/2001). Its software allowed people to search for music files (all files for that manner) on other users’ hard drives and download them for free. Even without the DMCA, this action was illegal. It copied these songs without the consent of the creator/owner which breaks the first U.S. copyright statue from 1790. Although the Founding Fathers originally drafted this law to cover maps, charts and books, Congress soon amended it to include most intellectual property:

Someone who halt or have purchased or legally acquired the copyright of any such map, chart, book or books, in order to print, reprint, publish or vend the same, shall have the sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending such map, chart, book. (www.copyright.gov)

 

By downloading a music file onto one’s hard drive, one is making a copy of the work without the owner’s consent and breaking the law.

 

The DMCA has allowed corporations, the RIAA in particular, to file lawsuits against the users of these peer-to-peer programs with outstanding ease. It is true that they are breaking the law every time they download (make a copy of) a song, and the record companies claim that this process makes them lose money. There is no estimate for exactly how much the recording industry loses due to online music piracy, but in 2000 the RIAA said record companies lose $5 billion per year due to physical media piracy such as counterfeit CDs (Hinduja, 4). They can get the history of users’ downloads and uploads and pinpoint their username to a physical name and address (Gantz & Rochester, 204). They have gone after individuals and groups in court with claims that total millions of dollars. By making this task so easy, the DMCA effectively transferred the job of law enforcement to corporate entities. Since the tracking of individual music pirates has long been a low priority of the government’s job, by passing the DMCA, it is fully cooperating in this handoff of legal responsibility

 

However strongly the music industry fights p2p programs and uses the DMCA to make sure they are getting paid by all consumers of their music, there are viable arguments that online music piracy does not lower record sales and can help musicians bolster their name recognition and record sales. There is no question that physical record sales are down, almost 18 percent since 2000 (www.usatoday.com, 1/4/2006), but experts credit that slump more to legal online song downloading like Itunes’ 99 cents per song service or online music subscription services like Rhapsody than to online piracy. A 2003 survey said that 80 percent of music pirates bought physical albums after hearing them on an illegal peer-to-peer program (Gantz & Rochester, 223). The legal downloading industry increased 148 percent from 2004-2005 and 420 million tracks were legally downloaded from online music houses in 2005 (www.usatoday.com, 1/4/2006; Gooch, 4). These single-track downloads also violate a complaint artists level at p2p piracy: single tracks break up the continuity of an album that is often an important aspect of the artist’s vision. That explains why some artists only offer full-album downloads on Itunes. Although physical record sales are down, the music industry is making back the revenue they claim to have lost in their lawsuits and then some via the ever-growing popularity of online music services.

 

Napster’s promotional function is visible in the example of the English rock band Radiohead’s 2000 album, Kid A. When it leaked onto Napster three-months before its release, it became the most downloaded album on the network. The album sold over 200,000 copies in its first week and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the first time the band had ever broken the top 20. Some argue that the exposure the band received on Napster helped boost sales of the physical CD (www.mp3newswire.net).

 

Napster and peer-to-peer programs like it help facilitate illegal music piracy. The corporate-lobbied DMCA passed in response to Napster’s formidable capabilities gives media giants the ability to go after these law breakers, a job that official law enforcement does not want to do. It is unclear exactly how much damage online music piracy does to the industry, but with the help of the DMCA, the RIAA can receive the promotional benefits of Napster and reap winnings from lawsuits that claim online piracy damages their business.

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