The evolution of copyright : Napster and the challenges of the digital age


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




The Napster case has created a frenzy of controversy and confusion. The Peer to Peer technology developed by Napster creator Shawn Fanning, has forced the courts, the legislature, corporations, and individuals to reconsider the use of the Internet. Peer to peer networks create new challenges for the application of copyright law. However, these challenges are not that different from those which copyright law has evolved to accommodate in the past. Copyright law is intended to balance the interests of the creators and the public to promote the progress of science and useful arts. The premise behind copyright protection is to ensure that people continue creating, and that the public continues to enjoy those creations, through the mechanism of rewarding the creators with a temporary monopoly over their works. This balance of interests is fundamental to the interpretation of copyright law by the United States Congress and the Courts. This thesis focuses on the application and interpretation of copyright law through a case study of the law in the United States, in particular the Napster case. Although it now appears that the Internet can be subject to some form of regulation with the aid of technological innovation to enforce the regulation, the Courts in the Napster case have misinterpreted the previous judicial consideration attributed to copyright law. In essence, the fundamental principle of the balancing of interests has been lost. We are now left with an unequal balance in favor of large media conglomerates. It can be argued that the media conglomerates have used Napster as an example of their power to control the technology of peer to peer networking as a model of distribution. Napster demonstrates that peer to peer is an effective way of sharing information with an extremely large amount of people. This has the music industry scared, resulting in their legal battle to shut down the Napster technology. The claims of copyright misuse raise awareness of the need for regulation and a reassessment of copyright application in a digital age. There is a need for regulation. However, any attempts at further application of law and regulation to the Internet concerning copyright protection should consider the intent of the constitutional founders of the United States -- copyright law is intended to protect the interests of both the artists, and the public.


Napster, Inc.; Peer-to-peer architecture (Computer networks); Copyright -- Sound recordings; Copyright -- Computer network resources

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