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How the Old Napster Worked

        Tech | File Sharing

Piracy Issues

The problem that the music industry had with Napster was that it was a big, automated way to copy copyrighted material. It is a fact that thousands of people were, through Napster, making thousands of copies of copyrighted songs, and neither the music industry nor the artists got any money in return for those copies. (This type of piracy is still happening now, through sites other than Napster.) This is why there was so much emotion around it. Many people loved Napster because they could get music for free instead of paying $15 for a CD. The music industry was against Napster because people could get music for free instead of paying $15 for a CD. Napster's defense was that the files were personal files that people maintained on their own machines, and therefore Napster was not responsible.

Individuals tend to be less concerned about copyright laws than businesses have to be, so individuals make all sorts of copyrighted songs available to the world from their personal machines. This means that anyone can download, for free, any song that someone has taken the time to encode in the MP3 format.

Even though Napster was banned from about 40 percent of U.S. colleges and universities when it was operating in its illegal form, some of the biggest users of Napster were college students. There are several reasons for this:

  • College students tend to like music.
  • Colleges and universities have spent lots of money making high-speed Internet access and computers available to students.
  • College students tend to be comfortable with technologies like MP3.
  • College students tend to have little money.

These things make the idea of downloading music for free appealing and easy for students. Sites cannot legally store or distribute copyrighted material without permission -- that would be copyright infringement, which is illegal. In fact, MP3.com was sued by the record companies because the company did have copyrighted materials available online for purchase without permission of the copyright holders, even though MP3.com was paying royalties for everything sold.

Songs that you find on legal download sites are:

  • In the public domain
  • Uploaded by artists who are trying to get exposure
  • Released by record companies trying to build interest in a CD
  • Paid for by you for the right to download, and the site pays the artist and/or record company royalties

An item that added to the controversy was the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. This law provides the buyer of a CD or cassette with the right to not only make a copy for their own personal use, but also to make copies for friends as long as the original owner is not selling the copies or receiving any other type of compensation. Napster fans said that what they are doing was perfectly legal since the law does not specify who those friends must be or how many of them you can give a copy to.


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