Don’t Steal My MP3: Napster Vs. The Record Companies.

During the the late 1990s, peer-to-peer filesharing networks blew up. Services such as Kazaa, Napster, and Groskter allowed people around the world to share and download thousands of songs instantaneous, and more important freely. Millions took part in what some might call a revolutionary movement. However, once record companies caught on that their music was so readily available at no cost, they took immediate action. The first company which they put in their crosshairs was Napster. A&M Records v. Napster  entered into the public spotlight, and by the end of it, not a single American was unaware of what an “MP3” was.

Author James Boyle discusses the case extensively in his book The Public Domain (1). Boyle explains that to a point, peer-to-peer file sharing is not necessarily stealing. The producer of the music did not really lose their music, and the people “stealing” are not gaining anything monetarily. This is the so called “Jeffersonian Warning” that Boyle describes. The other major issue at this time according to an article written by (at the time) Boston University Law student Jeremy Blackowicz was that there no copyright laws in place for MP3 files, which made the issue also trickier, considering it was the first case of it’s kind (2).  Napster argued that services provided were “non infringing,” much of how Sony argued their case in  Sony v. Universal  Studios, and just as the Betamax provided a “time-shifting” program, Napster provided a “space-shifting” one. They once again referred to the Sony case, in that they said that private noncommercial file use is equivalent to private noncommercial copying. Napster also mentioned that the same court (The Ninth Circuit Court) had it’s decision reversed by the Supreme Court for Sony v. Universal Studios. However, despite all of this, the court found Napster guilty and sided with the record companies.

The court found Napster guilty based on the fact that they violated four principles of fair use: the purpose, the nature, the portion used, and the effect on the market (3). The court also noted that Napster had knowledge that some of the materials that they made available were absolutely infringing, and despite knowing this, did not stop them from being distributed. What was also troubling were some of the details pointed out by Boyle, such as the compliance officer in charge of overseeing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act having thousands of “pirated songs” on his hard drive.

I chose this particular case because I think it’s somewhat personal to me. I love music and live for it. I book shows and I press tapes for my friends bands. Am I doing this for the money? Absolutely not. I’m doing this because I love it. I know because of peer to peer sharing networks, I was able to discover so many bands that I love. Bands that I’ve gone to see at concerts multiple times, bought records from, and bought various items of clothing from. So I guess when I’m told by someone that I’m “stealing music” and that I don’t truly support the bands, I’m actually offended. Why? Because I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years supporting the music I love and I’ve done whatever I can to even give back to the scene that changed my whole life. I think that support far outweighs just buying a CD before I even heard it from a band. Do I agree with the decision of the court? Yes. It seems like the people at Napster were complete scumbags, and that they even profited from it, so I don’t feel bad from them. But at the same time, I guess it troubles me that artists would go after the fans that support them and listen to them by then trying to sue them. Music is an art that everyone should be able to enjoy and it should serve to benefit humanity, which I don’t think their should be a price on. It shouldn’t be about how many records you sell or how much money you make. But hey, that’s just me.


“A&M RECORDS, INC. v. NAPSTER, INC., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001).” A&M RECORDS, INC. v. NAPSTER, INC., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001). N.p., 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. (3)

Blackowicz, Jeremy. “RIAA v. Napster: Defining Copyright for the Twenty-First Century?” Boston University Law Review (2001): n. pag. Web. (2)

Boyle, James. The Public Domain. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. The Internet Threat. (1)


Leave a Reply