Electronic File Sharing
Often times new technology enables completely new activities, discoveries, and ways of living, once not possible without that particular technology. An example of this would be the microscope and telescope, which now allow us to see things not possible before. Other times, new technology allows us to do things which we did before, but in a different way.1 A good example of this is electronic file sharing over the Internet. Unauthorized file sharing was possible before the Internet, but on a much smaller scale. One person might have physically borrowed a music cd from another person and made a copy. With the Internet, it became possible for a single person to share (more like distribute without authorization) with the whole world with ease. This has allowed for the much more significant financial damage to the parties being taken advantage of, in this case, the music industry. In my view, this is wrong. Unauthorized file sharing is bad for all parties, whether they know it or not, and should not be allowed.
There are a couple of technologies that have really helped facilitate electronic file sharing. The first one is the MP3 file format. MP3 is a file format (like JPEG, DOC) which is used to store audible data (songs). It is a file compression format that reduces the size of files by 10-12 times. This compression is very valuable in that it allows quicker transfer of songs over the Internet.2 The second one is peer-to-peer architecture. The main characteristic of a pure peer to peer architecture is that peers interact directly with other peers without any centralized servers. This is different from most web applications (like amazon.com), which are client-server architectures. In client-server systems, clients (individual users) interact with a powerful set of servers.3 The systems (e.g. Napster) that were used for most illegal electronic file sharing were not a pure form of peer to peer architecture because a client (peer) in search of a particular file (song), would first connect to a centralized site, and then be directed to a peer who would have that particular file. So, in a system like Napster, Napster did not provide songs to clients, it only provided a client with a place where it could acquire the songs.
Now lets take a look at the legal issues involved with file sharing. In the recording industry, there are two copyright laws involved. The first one is the copyright of the musical composition, which deals with the lyrics and musical notes. This is usually owned by the songwriter or music publisher.4 The second law is the copyright in sound recording, which deals with the recording of the performer singing or playing a given song. This is usually owned by the record company.5 The law that is violated with electronic file sharing is the second one. Titles 17 and 18 of the U.S. Code protect copyright owners from the unauthorized reproduction, adaptation or distribution of sound...