Mass Media Law
September 13, 2000
“Judge orders MP3.com to pay up to $250 million” from The Legal Intelligencer
This article explains the decision of a federal judge regarding a lawsuit by Universal Music Group against MP3.com for alleged copyright infringement. MP3.com is a World Wide Web service that allows users to download songs by popular music artists onto their computer
- Since the artists are not receiving any compensation from the users for use of their copyrighted songs, the artists’ record companies, Universal being one of them, are seeking to put an end to sites like MP3.com.
Since the invention of the Internet, copyrighted material of all kinds; books, speeches, songs, etc.; have been distributed freely across the Web. Governments have been scrambling to bring such copyright infringement under control, but in many cases it has proved difficult to trace the owners of Web sites or to punish them. This judge’s verdict, if it is not overturned by a higher court, could become precedent in dealing with such violators.
In this instance, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff wanted to set an example to all Internet companies by showing they will not be able to get away with copyright infringement forever. According to the article, the judge said, “(The companies) may have a misconception that, because their technology is somewhat novel, they are somehow immune from the ordinary applications of laws of the United States, including copyright law…They need to understand that the law’s domain knows no such limits.”
I think that in this case, the long arm of the law was able to punish a copyright offender because the organization was large and well known. MP3.com said it tried to set up measures to ensure that a user already owned a CD before they could listen to it over the Internet. Even so, it is understandable that record companies would still be upset about the music service, since it is difficult to determine how many users really did already have the CDs. It is even more impossible, though, to estimate how much money record companies have lost due to MP3 downloading sites across the World Wide Web, such as Napster or Oth.net. I think Universal was venting its anger about these downloading sites on MP3.com because it was large enough to pinpoint as an abuser and sue.
I know many college students who are proficient in music downloading and exchanging music files across the Web. For example, a student can go into the Network Neighborhood on a university computer and open every computer there. If another student has labeled a folder full of MP3s as a folder to be shared, the student can easily copy MP3s from the other student’s folder.
While I think government should try to enforce the laws it has set up, including copyright laws, the Internet is a scary force because so much illegal activity can go on and there is no one to monitor all of it. Plus, the Internet is available across the whole world, and every government has different rules, so, if Japan allowed MP3 sharing, for example, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. government to punish a Japanese citizen who has his/her own MP3-sharing site.
In the end, I think the government and those who copyright their material are going to have to face the inevitability of technological advancement. An effort to enforce copyright law seems futile in an age when, by using a scanner, pages of text can be put onto the Web in a few minutes. To trace every copyrighted page of text that has been made available to users worldwide using this method in order to punish the person who did it would be incredibly time consuming. Still, it is possible that it may just take time for law enforcement officials to catch up with “Internet criminals,” just as police officers learn ways to combat physical maneuvers violent criminals initiate.