The Napster Lawsuit in the U.S.
In America, there is currently a lawsuit pending that threatens to change the face of the music industry. The lawsuit is against Napster it has been brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as well as other major music labels.
Napster is a virtual community, which consists of music news and chat-rooms, the main feature it offers is an easy way to download MP3's (music files). This controversial service has brought the lawsuit to Napster. Napster allows its subscribers to download the music files without charge. It is not however, from Napster that the subscribers get these files. It is from each other. The users share their hard drives so that other users can download any of their music files that they want.
The RIAA believe that Napster has helped users infringe copyright. The threat of the lawsuit has been around since the conception of Napster and was actually filed four months after Napster went on line. The case is not as clear-cut as it first appears. RIAA argues that most of the MP3's on Napster's site are mainly pirated. Therefore, by Napster allowing and actually making it easier for users to download MP3's this means that they are assisting Copyright infringement.
Napsters defence is according to some legal experts, quite strong, especially as there are two cases that can be seen as setting precedents. The most recent being the RIAA suit against Diamond Multimedia. This company produces the 'Rio' a portable MP3 player. The RIAA felt the Rio ruined digital distribution as it played both legal and illegal MP3's. The judges ruling was in favour of Diamond Multimedia saying
'Rio is a playback only device, and therefore not subject to regulation.'
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The other case is from 1976 and involves Sony. This case relates indirectly; the movie industry sued Sony over the then new videocassette recorder (VCR). History seems to be repeating itself as Napster was found guilty in a lower court so was Sony.
'That court too, focused on how the technology was actually being used at the time the suit was being brought. As the case wound its way through the appeals process, however, the uses change …that helped sway the supreme court in Sony's favour'
J.L Napster has history on its side- kind of
This suit was filed by the RIAA in December 1999. Right now however, it is winding its way through the appeal courts. Napster is still in operation today as an appellant judge in the San Francisco courts overturned the verdict of a lower court judge that wanted Napster to shut down until a final verdict was reached.
Right now the case seems to be at a standstill. With one twist, one of the record companies that has brought this lawsuit against Napster has broken ranks and struck a deal to shape the future of Napster.
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