Court and profs: Napster violates copyright
By LAURA ROMPF
Assistant News Editor
Last year a favorite song was just a click away.
By logging on to the Napster network, using the Web site's search engine and clicking on a specific song, even unreleased materials could be heard over the Internet.
Members of the University's network could download Napster software that enabled them to share music files with fellow users. However, in July, a district court in San Fransisco ruled Napster was infringing on copyright laws and must be shut down.
Joseph Bauer, a professor at Notre Dame's law school and an expert in antitrust and copyright laws, agrees with the court's ruling.
"The individuals who use Napster to make unauthorized copies of music are engaging in copyright violation," he said.
"Because Napster is making available the software to copy the music, they are engaging in contributory infringement. The record companies would have a difficult time suing you and me, but by suing Napster, they can prevent you and me from making unauthorized copies."
Bauer said this is a legal issue, but eventually he feels it should be settled through legislation.
"Whether or not Napster is infringing on copyright laws, they are making available the technology for others to violate copyright laws," Bauer said. "At the end of the day, I think this is an issue that Congress will have to resolve. It cannot be best settled in the courts, but in legislation."
Despite the initial ruling that ordered Napster to shut down within 48 to 72 hours, an appellate court said because there was only a limited trial, the preliminary injunction should be overturned until a full case is heard. Because the court of appeals felt Napster would be hurt more financially in the interim than the record companies, it decided to dismiss the preliminary injunction until a permanent injunction could be rendered.
However, Bauer believes the ruling will not be different after the full trial.
"I'd be surprised if after the full trial the judge wouldn't see infringements in copyright rules," he said.
Rob Easley, assistant professor of management in the College of Business, believes the music industry should take advantage of the Internet rather than fight like they have in the recent court cases.
"My basic feeling is that the music industry is missing the point. They are not moving fast enough to take initiative ... The industry is losing opportunities and is pushing users to other platforms that cannot be shut down as easily as Napster," Easley said.
"If they would adopt a different business model, they could realize that Internet music increases the exposure of the artists, and that is an advantage," he said. "It could be viewed more as radio. There are a lot of possibilities that are not being taken advantage of."
John Michel, also an assistant professor of management in the College of Business, said because MP3 files are readily available, record companies will not be able to avoid the technology. Rather, they should try to improve upon the technology.
"I think record companies will ultimately have to find new and innovative ways to use technology," he said.
Easley feels record companies may actually be missing an opportunity to increase revenues.
"During the trial, the lawyer for the record industry said that millions of MP3s are being downloaded everyday. With simple math, it is easy to figure out that that could be turned into a lucrative flow of revenue if record companies would charge only a few cents.
"However, they are not willing to think about the possibility of selling the music for less money," Easley said.
Both Easley and Michel believe Napster may not be hurting record sales and actually might help artists get exposure.
"The jury is still out," Michel said. "The indications are that it is not having much effect, and it is possible that it is complimentary to record sales. It is hard to say how it will eventually play out."
Michel noted that MP3s do not have the exact quality found on compact discs, and this makes the threat of record sales declining immediately less likely.
"When exact duplicates are available, it will be a greater threat to record companies," he said.
Easey said Napster may have allowed listeners to preview a CD and then be convinced to buy it.
"Some say that listening to MP3s is actually pushing CD sales. As a consumer, you want to listen to a couple of tracks before you make the decision to go out and spend $15 on a CD," he said.
Although Napster cannot be directly accessed at Notre Dame, students can still navigate through other sites to the Napster Web page. Also, several other sites are available with Napster-type search engines to download music.
Michel said many of these alternate methods may prove impossible to shut down because, unlike Napster, they are not run through a central location.
"I think the trading of music will still be pretty prevalent at Notre Dame. There are many other sites and sources where students can download music largely for free," he said. "There is still the potential to share music at Notre Dame because there are many other sites you can use."
Overall, despite the arguments the music industry should take advantage of the Internet's resources and not fight the technology, Bauer believes the court ruled accurately because copyrights were being infringed upon. He added that ultimately artists should have the right to decide whether or not their music is being shared via the World Wide Web.
"What Napster has been doing violates copyright law and infringes on the owners of musical works," Bauer said. "Some artists may want to allow people to make copies of their music, and they should have this. However, those artists who do not want their music (on Napster) should have the same right not to have their music copied."
All News Stories for Friday, August 25, 2000