Napster Wars Essay

Fifth Amendment
?A young Shaun Fanning, attending school in high school in Harwich, Massachusetts had two loves: 1) Sports ( baseball, basketball, and tennis ) and 2) computers. As his curiosity grew for computers, he decided to stop his sport playing, and spend most of his time working with computers. He primarily focused on two aspects of the computer, programming and the Internet. His computer fascination grew into an obsession throughout high school.

His freshman year at Northeast University in 1998 was spent trying to enter computer science classes higher than the entry level. Not finding anything challenging about the courses, he decided to start writing a Windows based program in his spare time.

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He started spending time in IRC chat rooms with experienced programmers who knew the tricks of the trade. Shaun’s roommate loved MP3’s, but disliked the unreliability of old sites, and having to search endlessly for songs that were usually not even available. With this in mind, and his developing skills as a programmer and his curiosity for the internet, Shaun decided to write the Beta for Napster. He used the idea of all users being connected to one central computer server, yet all having access to each other’s music files. He wanted a continually updated list of songs to choose from. He wrote a small version and distributed it to friends and family. The results were all positive. He had fellow programmers detect bugs, and perfect the program. Napster got its’ big break, when it was featured as’s featured download. The system would be revolutionary, he thought. A sharp contrast to the traditional search engines, this community would be user powered, based only on what the users want to share with other users. After the advertisement on, Napsters’ user count sky-rocketed. Shaun was on the right path. How creative! This creativeness would soon turn to turmoil (Fanning p.1).?
?On May 8, 2000, the Recording Industry Association of America sued Napster and its’ founders for music piracy(Borland p.1).? It is really a battle of individual rights and ingenuity, as opposed to copyrights. It has quickly moved its’ way up to the US Supreme Court and has the media as well as the public hungry for the latest reports. Napster can be downloaded and installed for free on your computer. When setup, Napster serves as an online music community, where you can conduct a search through all of the other users songs that are currently online. ?There are consistently 800,000 people using the Napster service, limited only by their resources?(Fanning). This should give you an idea of the large music variety you have to choose from.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has decided to take it upon themselves to sue Napster and its founder’s for promoting the illegal reproduction of copyrighted music, and not giving any royalties to the owners of the songs. ?Napster argues that it is not directly responsible for the distribution of songs, because it doesn’t provide the songs for the users to download (Borland p1)?. The users download songs off of each others computers, thus they cannot control copyright matters. They also argued they should have the same leeway as Internet Service Providers (ISP) do, when it comes to copyright issues. ISP’s are not held liable for copyright infringements if they do something about it. If they do not do anything about it, then they can be held liable.
I have chosen to view this issue in perspective of the Fifth Amendment. In order to better understand what is going to be talked about, I will explain exactly what the Fifth Amendment entitles American citizens to.
?A concern struck people in early America of a strong central government. Too strong. To ease concerns like this, a Bill of Rights was proposed, which gave individuals certain rights, which was understood by the government not to infringe upon. Basically it gave humans some rights that the government could not touch.

The Fifth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights and it holds that individuals cannot be required to give the government information which may be used against them in criminal cases. Subsequent case law has applied the Fifth Amendment in civil cases, too, when there is the possibility that the information in question may be used criminally. The information however, may be used for criminal prosecution in a system like our present tax system. A system where the enforcement of justice is used by an agency to gather information that they may utilize for criminal prosecution?(Conklin).The Fifth Amendment closes by guaranteeing to the people, that no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Now flash back to the whole Napster ordeal. Shaun Fanning has had great success in this program he has developed to simplify the finding of music files on the Internet. Using his own creative genius, and having no malicious intent, should the US government shut down Napster and all of it’s productions because it serves as a primary base for music piracy? Technically, yes. Read over again, the last sentence of the Fifth Amendment, , and notice the part reading no one to ?be deprived of life liberty or property without just compensation. In that statement the Fifth Amendment is briefly backing up the positions of both sides of the court case. Both are trying to take each others personal property away. The RIAA is trying to shut down Shaun Fannings’ program, which he owns full rights to, and Napster is freely distributing copyrighted songs, which have owners. Federal laws provide that you cannot distribute whole copies of copyrighted material freely, without giving any royalties to the owners of that music. Napster provides the well thought argument that they are not providing and conducting the song trading, but merely providing a ?electronic housing? for it’s users. But when it is not hurting anyone except for a very select few people, who are already wealthy off money made from these exact songs, should these technicalities be enforced? Even more so, when it is benefiting many more people that it is inconveniencing, should the laws be carried out to a ?t?? The RIAA is saying yes. Claiming that many musicians are angry that Napster is freely giving out songs that belong to them, without any just compensation.
We can definitely deal with the issue of individual rights as opposed to the good being done for the larger part of society. The very select few who are being affected in a negative way in this matter, are the musicians themselves. Among the supporters of the anti-Napster movement are Eminem and Metallica. Many more people are benefiting off Napster rather than people being inconvenienced. I personally, can say that Napster is very helpful in the retrieval of music files and is a fresh alternative to boring search engines. The musicians individual rights, however are blatantly being violated, and in turn, they want compensation. The reason the case has held for so long in the Supreme court, though, is the vast number of people that give it their support. Why would you want to destroy something that provides an easy, fun way to do your file to file sharing.

Straying away now, very quickly from the whole Amendment aspect of the case, let’s settle down and review the public service issue of this. I am arguing towards the fact that this type of public service, is totally acceptable, because hard work was put in, and his great success was not intentional. He was planning on running a little network between friends and family members, so they could trade songs more easily. It was a hit and it exploded. Now his company and he has to suffer and pay money towards the records companies for trading copyrighted materials that was merely set up by him? That’s not right. A creative student should not have his work shut down because he succeeded.

Going again back to the Amendment aspect. I can see this Amendment shifting to apply to today’s society. The Internet has spurred many new bills and laws, clarifying electronic crimes on the internet. There is no doubt that future laws will have to be made, and old laws will continue to be revised in our ever-changing society of technological advancement. Go napster!!
1) Heilemann, John. ?Boies, The Wired Interview.? Wired (8 Oct. 2000): 5 pp. On-line. Internet. 8 October 2000. Available @
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