Geek Fever

I wrote this for my online class. Just wanted to share with you my thoughts on music downloading and file sharing. Yes to piracy! 🙂

For music buffs, gone were the days when they had to lug boom boxes, walkmans and even portable cd players. Thanks to digital music in the MP3 format, music has become handier, and for download junkies, practically free of charge.

When you talk about music downloading, it is almost impossible not to think of Napster and how it revolutionized peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing. Napster today functions as a site where members who pay a certain fee are able to search and download windows media audio files directly from its server. As copyrighted materials, the user basically pays royalties to the artists once you purchase these MP3s, much like when you buy CDs. But Napster once fueled a great debate because of its file sharing service.

It all started with the idea of then 18-year-old Shawn Fanning, nicknamed Napster. Fanning wanted to develop a utility that would allow users to share their MP3s online and download them into their computers. Napster itself does not store MP3 files but only functions as an index server for users who are online. A user places a query in the Napster utility and it matches the query to online users who has that particular MP3. Instead of storing the files in a central server, the MP3s are stored in the PCs of Napster users. Hence, once you download an MP3, it means you are getting it from fellow users and not from Napster itself.

Because of Napster’s appeal, the music industry saw its potential for piracy. Who would want to buy CDs if you could get free MP3s of your favorite artists? Of course we all heard about how Napster lost its legal battle with the record companies.

After Napster however, other P2P networks have sprouted. We know have the likes of Kazaa, much like Napster but not limited to sharing MP3. Today, practically anything can be shared, from videos to pictures and e-books. The possibilities are endless. A variant P2P network would be Gnutella which operates without a central server. Files are exchanged directly between users, making it more difficult to shut down.

The issue behind music sharing and downloading is whether it can be considered as copyright infringement. Under the US Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which added to the controversy, once a cd or a cassette has been bought, the owner has a right to make copies for friends as long as s/he does not sell these copies. If you look at it from this point, then it is clear that P2P file sharing is not liable for infringement. What these networks provide is a venue for users to meet and exchange files.

However, under the copyright laws, Napster was held liable for providing the technology in aide of the “infringement” supposedly done. But what is infringement? Some say it is synonymous to the crime of theft. But the term infringement is itself a grey area. To say that it has been committed, one must consider whether it was done for commercial purposes and whether the copyright owner has been deprived of his/her revenues.

My beef on P2P file sharing is that there was no intention on the networks part to infringe. The actual act of downloading an MP3 does not constitute infringement or theft for that matter. Infringement is committed by pirates, users who download music, burn multiple copies on cds and sell them. Providing a venue for users to meet, exchange personal files of which they have the right to do, is not identical to piracy. It only makes these networks more susceptible to lawsuits since it is easier to catch them than to make pirate users liable for their crimes.

I am all for the protection of intellectual property rights, believing that plagiarism is one of the worst sins a writer could ever commit. In the P2P file sharing case however, the arguments point to the other direction.

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