Napster and Intellectual Property

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The Internet. It is a vast network of millions of users, surfing and sharing billions of files, all day, every day. To individuals holding copyrights on intellectual property, this is a frightening proposition. After all, there is virtually no protection for these copyright holders from the misuse of their property. But, as Scott Sullivan, writer for The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin stated, "as history has proven, technological and societal advances usually come with a price." The price society is paying for the Internet is a loss of copyright protection by laws for their intellectual material. Napster is a good example of how these intellectual property rights are being compromised on the Internet. Napster is a simple, yet sophisticated program created by a young college student named Shawn Fanning that enables users to anonymously swap and share audio files known as MP3s. During its infancy, Napster only had approximately 3,000 users. At that time, Napster could probably have been protected by the Audio Home Recording Act, "which gives consumers the right to create and transfer digital music for noncommercial purposes" (Gurly). Since that time, according to Chris Sherman, writer for the magazine Online, "Napster has become the most successful new Web technology ever by gaining more than 25 million registered users in just over a year or existence." At this point, however, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is quite unhappy with Napster's existence and its service. They believe "the fact that millions of users can share songs with one another is a violation of copyright and constitutes outright ‘theft' of intellectual property" (Sherman). The RIAA won a lawsuit under this argument against Napster in early 2001, so the program may go offline unless a compromise is reached. If the final ruling is made to stop Napster's service, doing so will not be difficult because it is a centralized service. However, "file sharing, a mainstay of...
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