Metallica v. Napster (Lesson 10)

Napster was the ultimate geek banner, a battle that had been fought by hackers on the biggest stage of all. Ultimately, the hackers had lost, but … it was still the biggest hack in history.”

–Ben Mezrich, Accidental Billionaires (Ch. 18)

We are going to focus on Napster in our next class (2/29), and we are going to re-enact a preliminary injunction hearing in the case of Metallica v. Napster. In that case, the rock band Metallica sued Napster for copyright infringement, in essence, accusing Napster of allowing its users to steal Metallica’s music. Accordingly, we are going to need two volunteers for this activity:

(1) One student will represent the rock band Metallica: you will argue why Napster’s file-sharing system is illegal and why your client is entitled to an injunction.

(2) The other student will represent Napster: you will argue why Napster’s file-sharing system constitutes “fair use” under federal copyright law.

Here is some background: Before Sean Parker discovered Facebook, he co-founded in June 1999 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.” By the way, Metallica wasn’t the only plaintiff who sued Napster. The powerful Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) also brought a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against Napster in December 1999, and the RIAA eventually persuaded a court to issue a court order shutting down the website … But did the court make the correct decision? After all, how is a popular website like YouTube any different than the old Napster?

Critical thinking question: In your opinion, is file-sharing copyrighted materials unethical?

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