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According to a recent poll released by PC Data, 56 percent of home Internet users agree with the legal arguments of Napster, the web site that facilitates the sharing of music files. PC Data, a Reston, Virginia-based market research firm, conducted the poll to gauge public opinion regarding the controversial copyright infringement lawsuit that is currently under appeal.
The file-sharing technology of Napster has forced Americans to re-evaluate their conceptions of “intellectual property” and scrutinize the often ambiguous notion of “intellectual property rights.”
Napster allows users to swap .mp3 (compressed music) files between computers using an Internet-connection and the free software available at the Napster Web site. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) brought suit to shut down the site claiming that such “file sharing” violates copyright law. Hours after U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ordered an injunction that would have shut down the site, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed, or stopped, the injunction. The appeals court has ordered both companies to file legal briefs on the subject in the coming weeks.
While the opinion of home Internet users may not affect a legal proceeding, the poll is a reminder that current copyright law may not be directly applicable to the questions that have arisen due to technological change. In contrast to property and contractual disputes, copyright law is statutory in nature and is designed for the exigencies of the time it was enacted. If the distribution methods of expressive works change, there is no rationale for why copyright law should remain static.
The file-sharing technology of Napster has forced Americans to re-evaluate their conceptions of “intellectual property” and scrutinize the often ambiguous notion of “intellectual property rights.” Uncertainty shrouds the legal parameters of digital music swapping.
Copyright law should not be a straightjacket to technological change. Laws should reflect the economic realities of present technology. Law designed for other purposes will lead to inevitable market inefficiencies and dead weight losses.