Napster and intellectual property
Napster is a computer software program written so as to allow computer users to be able to share multimedia files, especially the mp3 format of music files. The music files are actually not stored on Napster’s website but rather, the software just connects the different users using its interface so as to facilitate a communication between the users. These people are therefore able to share and exchange music files via the internet. The implication of this is that the users do not have to buy these songs any longer since they already have it for free.
However, music producers are raising an eyebrow against this as they point out that it infringes on the copyright that song artists have on their songs, adding that it amounts to billions of dollars lost in revenue. To counter this, Napster responded that it is not liable to these claims as it does not physically store these songs on its servers. in a sense, Napster has transferred whatever legal issue to the end users as it states categorically clear in its Terms and Conditions of use that it is not liable for the copying of copyrighted material. Users are required to install the software program on their hard drive in order to be able to browse these mp3 files. During the installation process, they are required to read through a document containing the terms and conditions of use. On close scrutiny of this document, it would be realised that Napster has already absolved itself of any wrongdoing by way of aiding and abetting the illegal sharing of copyrighted materials. However, Napster itself agreed to the fact that it is almost impossible to determine which files are illegal and which ones are not, since a large since we are dealing with a large number of files.
Napster has repeatedly pointed to the fact that it only serves as an interface for connection between the various users. It works based on the Client/Server principle whereby the server connects the client systems.
The issue of Napster has raised some dust in the music industry as the various stakeholders are taking different logical stands. Napster on one hand is claiming that it is not aiding or abetting the illegal sharing of copyrighted material. The music producers on the other hand are claiming that Napster is doing exactly just that. The various users of this software have come out to defend their various reasons for using the software.
In my opinion, the issue of Napster only brought to the fore the fact that the physical world needs to adapt, in a timely manner, to the virtual world represented by the internet. Some of the laws that are being infringed upon, including the copyright law, are not explicit when relating them to the internet. The internet represents 21st century technology that is just evolving. The laws need to be updated so as to incorporate new technologies. Without this, more people would continue to infringe on other people’s rights, not only copyright as they will continue to dwell on the weakness of the courts in prosecuting them.
Another ethical issue is raised in this matter. Napster is not listening to any reason at all regarding this matter. It has continually stated that it is not liable to any illegality yet it has millions of users all over the world. It is clear that all these users cannot be brought to book if at all a prima facie case is established against them. Moreover, Napster has continually refused to suspend this service for any reason at all. This point to the fact that Napster realises that this service is illegal but it would continue to defend itself because of the inadequacy of the laws in prosecuting it. I believe that Napster recognises the fact that its service is being used illegally by many of its users but rather than deter them, it continues to protect itself from prosecution by maintaining the status quo. I believe that Napster might never be tried for this wrongdoing as there are some loopholes arising from the fact that this is a new technology that the law has not yet made provision for. I also believe that Napster is not helping matters by not suspending its service. However, the law has to be at its best at prosecuting this legal issue as it would be a test case against similar services that are already up and running. If Napster is left off the hook, so many other potential “Napsters” will arise in its place. This situation will eventually lead to a decline in the fortunes of artists as they would continue to lose a lot of money to illegal activities of people protected by companies like Napster.
R. J. Arik (2000). Napster and the changing nature of intellectual property
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