The Law & Ethics of Napster

Before Sean Parker discovered Facebook, he had co-founded a company called Napster, a peer-to-peer file-sharing website that allowed users to share MP3 music files with each other (see image below, courtesy of the website “How Stuff Works“). At the time, Napster was huge. According to Wikipedia, for example, “verified Napster use peaked with 26.4 million users worldwide in February 2001.” The Recording Industry Association of America wasted no time in filing a federal lawsuit against Napster–the file-sharing website was launched in June 1999; the lawsuit was brought in December 1999–and the record industry eventually persuaded a court to issue an injunction or court order shutting down the website … But did the court make the correct decision, and on what legal grounds did the court issue this draconian remedy (i.e. the injunction shutting down Napster)? Let’s say, by way of example, that you have paid for and downloaded onto your computer your favorite movie or your favorite record album. Is it illegal or unethical for you to then send that file to a friend … or to a member of your immediate family? What about your Netflix password? Is it illegal or unethical to share the password to your Netflix account with a friend or a family member?

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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