A&M Records, Inc v. Napster, Inc was the first major case between the recording industry and a peer-to-peer file sharing network. Napster became wildly popular after it was developed by a computer science student attending Northeastern University in 1999.
The P2P service offered the easiest to use and overall best P2P file sharing network at the time. Napster made millions off copyrighted materials available for download by using indexes created by Napster to search other people’s available files. The record industry believed this was copyright infringement and it was costing them large profits. Musicians were also greatly upset their intellectual property was being stolen.
In the suit, A&M Records represented the following companies:
Sony Music Entertainment
Elektra Entertainment Group
Sire Records Group
Virgin Records America
Warner Bros. Records
Napster tried to claim it was free speech to let users download and listen to material on their computer. They also claimed the content on Napster was open to fair use. Napster believed they had three fair use defenses. The first was sampling, meaning potential customers had a right to sample music before they bought it. This was turned down by the judge because the sample was full and permanent.
The second fair use defense was space shifting. This meant audio files on CD were shifted to mp3 format and were open for circulation on the Internet. This was thrown out by the judge because the shifted audio was made available to anyone for free which was against the record companies’ intent. The third defense succeeded. It only gave Napster the right to distribute copyrighted material of artists who gave permission.
The United States Court of Appeals ruled Napster could be held responsible for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. Napster was eventually shutdown and ordered to pay $26 million to the plaintiff.
RIAA v. Joel Tenenbaum
Another separate case is sure to scare off some P2P users who think they are immune from the repercussions of copyright infringement. In this landmark case, the Recording Industry Association of America sued a 25-year-old Boston University student, Joel Tenenbaum, for $675,000.
The doctoral student was sued for downloading and distributing 30 copyrighted songs. There were more songs in his folder but the RIAA focused on 30 songs. Tenenbaum was just an average P2P user who regularly swapped copyrighted material since P2P networks became popular around 2000.
The RIAA would win the lawsuit against Tenenbaum. Tenenbaum was represented by a Harvard University professor who took the case free of charge after hearing of the case on the news. Tenenbaum’s chances of a fair use defense were thrown out in the pretrial. Tenenbaum could have been ordered to pay $150,000 per song but ended up being charged $22,500 per song, still far too expensive for Tenenbaum to ever afford. The suit came out to $675,000.
The suit led to more lawsuits against individual users who could be found after their computer’s IP address was determined. Most of the suits were for far less than Tenenbaum’s case, around $3,500. The RIAA recently announced they would stop suing P2P users because the defendant could rarely pay the court-ruled amount and the money spent on lawyers was far greater than the money coming in. The RIAA is now working on having users’ Internet access shutdown based on IP address rather than suing for a monetary value.