Morality of Napster

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At a glance, the conflict between and the Recording Industry Association of America appears to be very cut and dry, however, analysis of the many factors involved uncover moral and legal issues which prove otherwise. Like any other dispute, this specific case is composed of two opposing arguments. From the perspective of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Napster infringed on copyright laws. Napster defends that copyright law does not unequivocally place them in the wrong. After a yearlong battle, a verdict has been reached and litigation has ended. Through this analysis, it will be evident that the outcome attained between the RIAA and Napster satisfies utilitarian moral law as cogently possible. On December 6th, 1999, the RIAA sued Napster in Federal Court for copyright infringement, and petitioned that the court shut Napster down. Although Napster continued to run, the litigation and efforts towards shutting it down continued for what would be nearly one year. This lawsuit may seem simple because it involves an organization who distributed a form of copyrighted software called MP3 to over "20 million people with out permission of the rightful owner." This seems to indicate how Napster is clearly guilty of the charges brought against them. However, as copyright laws were analyzed, the relation of its terminology to the actions of Napster made it difficult to prove Napster guilty. The legal arguments presented by the plaintiffs pertaining to the specifics of copyright law are in their opinion "substantial enough in evidence to prove Napster of wrong doing." The RIAA charged Napster as being liable for contributory copyright infringement and vicarious copyright infringement. Violations of these two copyright law concepts were the premise of the RIAA's case. Contributory copyright infringement, unlike direct copyright infringement, is not written in the Copyright Act. Instead, it is a concept based on the relationship between the contributing infringer and the direct infringing activity. Contributory infringement can arise from providing the "services or equipment" , and "the knowledge of the infringing activity [which] induces, causes, or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another" to aid the direct infringer. To prove contributory infringement, it must be shown that a company knew of the actual direct copyright infringement. It must also be shown that the contributory infringer substantially participated in the actual, direct infringement. In regard to this case, the capability of Napster's software leaves them subject to this charge. Napster 2.0 is the "service or equipment" which enables users, or "direct infringers" to search the community's database for MP3's. Napster has been prosecuted because they are the party responsible for the impact of their software, not its users. The second charge brought against Napster was that it was to blame for vicarious copyright infringement. Vicarious copyright infringement, like contributory infringement is a common concept that is not codified by the Copyright Act. Liability for vicarious infringement can be imposed even when "the third party lacks knowledge of the infringing activity because of the supervisory nature of the relationship between the third party and the direct copyright infringer." Napster was brought up on charges of vicarious copyright infringement on the grounds that, regardless if the "software developers actually committed copy right piracy themselves; it is enough that they could have influenced the act or benefited from it in some way." Even if Napster was unaware of what its users were doing, their software is capable to perform copyright infringing activities. The design of the Napster software enables users to act illegally, and a claim to Napster's innocent myopia is not a justifiable defense. Because there is such significant and substantial evidence that accuses Napster of being...
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