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SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

- Feature Story -

 

U.S. Copyright Law, Napster and Innovation

March 03, 2001

Introduction

Like patent law, the copyright system is intended to protect innovation by persons and organizations who develop materials (goods, information, concepts and processes) for public, business or other target consumers. Ultimately, this protection that is afforded to creators / artists / inventors, is intended to secure incentives to create [things] for the good of the end user.

It is intuitive that organizations supporting the production of goods may exchange monetary support, marketing and research services, and technical support, for some measure of the original concept creator's rights; a mutually beneficial system when creators develop concepts but do not own the infrastructure required to bring products to consumers.

Patent and copyright law are therefore intended to protect:
  • Inventors; Artists; Creators; Innovators
  • Consumers
  • by implication -- Supporting Investors and Industry

During the 1990s, the "Internet Revolution" was considered to be a threat to controlling rights. The Internet allows rapid dissemination of information of all kinds, including music, images and knowledge. In fact, the origination of the Internet was created "To provide for the free exchange of information and ideas," a concept which fails under the book-burning policies of government and special-interest control. The Millennium Intellectual Properties Act was enacted within the U.S., and adopted by treaty, elsewhere, to plug legal holes regarding information exchange across the world wide network, by vastly increasing litigation powers of copyright and intellectual rights claims.

As it took effect during 1999, this new act became a feeding frenzy of corporate lawyers. Corporations were making "land grab" claims by filing for ownership of previously public-domain products. Large corporate legal staffs typically filed thousands of such claims, grabbing all possible rights to any technology their corporation might ever have tweaked through the production staff, partially in self-defense against future lawsuits by other corporations who might otherwise file on the same technology first. In many well-known instances, corporations went so far as to file lawsuits against other businesses using that technology which had been in common use for years. We saw corporations attempt to reclaim rights to all .gif image presentation and the infamous "doubleclick" patent awarded to Amazon.com. Rights to Java, in the public domain, were reclaimed by Sun Microsystems, while excellent innovations to Java's utility by Microsoft were trashed by uninformed and ignorant decrees of courts who assumed power far beyond their own intellectual reach, drunkenly empowered by the Act.

None of this served the very intent of copyright law; to encourage innovation and protect innovators and consumer choices. Only the lawyers and special-interest corporations have become rich from this horrid abortion of legal power, at the expense of the intended beneficiaries of copyright and patent law. Intermediate producers and their lawyers, not intended to be direct beneficiaries of copyright protection, have become the focus of rights provided by the Millennium Copyright Act, as creators and consumers are collectively wounded, raped and forgotten on the legal battlefield.

Sonny Bono was one of the original authors of the Millennium Intellectual Properties Act. It was Bono's goal to protect artists from uncontrolled distribution of their works without payment to the artists. To date, the act has crushed creativity, smashed innovation of original works, created obese police agencies to enforce this grotesque law, and trampled many other rights while it has only served to benefit a tiny percentage of rich artists as it oppressed all others.

Napster

Napster became one of the most rapid and popular innovations of the Internet Revolution. Napster created a system to locate and sample music beyond any means which had ever existed. The Internet, Napster and MP3.com offered new hope for artists to distribute their work without signing away all rights to their creations to the obscene, greedy, record companies. No longer were the sweat-shop factories of the recording companies able to control distribution; any recording studio could produce and distribute artistic music at minimal cost through the Internet. Old songs from Napster's massive database could be located even if long-since abandoned by recording company distribution channels, or if only produced in limited quantities by low-budget studios. Obscure artists could reach an audience even when they didn't have power to influence the whims of large record company executives through payoffs or favors or their own group's fame. In some cases, republishing of lost and obscure music occurred by popular demand, which was also rewarded by sales at record stores.

Actual statistics demonstrate massive sales of both well-known and obscure artist's records and CDs to audiences who sampled music on Napster. Mid-stream bands became more popular and sold more CDs. Obscure bands with good tunes became known and financially sound without selling their rights to big record companies for the usual pittance.

By increasing consumer choices and reducing the artificial barriers to entry against new performing artists, Napster provided a service to artists and consumers that realized the power of the Internet for a short time. But the few favorite performing groups of recording company monopolies had much more competition from other artists, and the record companies lost their absolute control over music distribution and the power to decide what consumers could and could not sample. Neither recording monopolies nor the richest performing groups appreciated Napster's power to bring such diversity to consumers.

The music recording & distribution industry is one of the remaining monster, monopolistic industries today. It defies the public's rejection of industry like the 20th century textile sweatshops by still placing stereotypically inhumane and selfish company managers in charge of vamping the souls and hopes of aspiring musicians. Whether a group even has a chance to audition or not is often dependent on payoffs, kickbacks or favors rather than the group's talent as performers. Performers are often selected for a recording session based on their ability to pay exorbitant studio fees, and studios prey off of hopeful artists in their ripoff scams. Distribution is again dependent on favors, kickbacks, etc. A very small percentage of good artists every get heard by anyone through the recording industry process. Record companies are parasitic upon most artists, discarding them once they are demoralized and bankrupt.

Napster was a serious threat to the recording industry monopoly. It created a new set of economic rules for artists, consumers and music distribution that did not include the obese, traditional monopoly. In Napster's system, the distribution of music already copyrighted by recording companies occurred. Napster likened such distribution to "a book" where individual persons could share their books, or records which can be shared by friends. Obvious consideration of a radio station's ability to play a single record to many thousands of listeners at once, or the vast increases of CDs attributable to Napster participants (to the benefit of artists and consumers) were ignored by courts hearing legal action against Napster as the monopolies sued to regain control over distribution. Using the new Millenium Intellectual Properties Act, which includes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, through court action until March, 2001, recording monopolies won the virtual destruction of Napster by court decisions. Offers by Napster to block all copyrighted material on Napster's servers and one $billion in damage payments to recording companies for infringement were rejected, since these companies were apparently interested only in retaining their absolute monopolies, a system which should and would eventually disappear with Napster's technology circumventing the monopolistic system of music distribution.

Wired News published a story, Napster Loss is Copyright Gain by Brad King, on March 1, 2001. King's article pointed out how limiting to individual use of property the copyright law becomes if it is only to be interpreted in favor of monopolistic interests instead of the consumers and artists it was intended to protect. Is that a gain? And is the law itself an entity which should "gain" according to how smashingly it destroys freedom of choice? If the law, to date, has become a perverse, legal battlefield where artists and consumers are both victims of court decisions based on that law, shouldn't we apologize to the world and discard the abomination of the Millennium Intellectual Properties Act before more damage is done?

The recording industry did a remarkable job of double-speak by convincing many that their own monopoly was somehow noble, while Napster was a festering wound of artistic destruction. Even AnchorDesk's David Coursey wrote, Why Napster Must Die, comparing the service to thieves raiding his house. A thief lives; it's the recording industry that steals most creator's rights for nearly zero compensation and provides meager or no services to either the artists or consumers. Another thief exists; a law which prevents competitive, alternative publication services for artists, with reasonable compensation to the artists for creative works instead of obscene publishing rights and profits only for the monopoly. Yet another thief steals individual rights to use artistic expressions, as well as privacy and liberty, in favor of enforcing the putrid abortion of Digital Millennium Copyright Law. That's a perverse law supported by perverse court decisions, which has been sold to the public by this new Millennium of double-speak justifications.

 
 

 

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