Aleia HollandsMrs. Corbett4th Period AP LiteratureNovember 18, 2011 Copyright Infringement in the Recording Industry Technological revolutions made in the recording industry since the late 1990s aimed toincrease the growth of music and the profits of the recording labels. However, despite these newadvances, music sales decreased over two billion dollars since 2000 (Sanders 296). In an agewhere technology constantly grows, it becomes easier for people to connect from all over theworld and in a matter of seconds. Thus, technology makes stealing music, known as copyrightinfringement, that much easier. Technology,which intended to boost recording labels’ profits, didquite the opposite and ultimately has become their downfall. Now labels have established a threestep process to fight the growing copyright infringement. Their goals include establishing up-to-date copyright laws carrying out lawsuits against music file sharing networks and the individualswho illegally download music in order to set an example for all others. Copyright originally intended to protect the creativity of the author or producer of a workand also to protect the actual work itself (Jackson 194). Lawmakers assumed that if anyone couldtake a work and call it his without giving credit or payment to the original creator, then therewould be no incentive for artists, authors, musicians, and other inventors to continue in theirprofession. Also, anyone could take a work and alter it without the creator’s permission.Therefore, England established the first copyright law in 1710 (Jackson 193). However,copyright laws left the public without access to a majority of creative works; therefore, theUnited States law introduced the concept of Fair Use. “Fair use allows someone to copy, without
Hollands 2permission, portions of the authors expression in limited circumstances for purposes such ascriticism, comment, teaching, news reporting, or research” (Jackson 194). This law wasintroduced after certain debates about the First Amendment of free speech and whether or notpeople were allowed to quote or use piece of a work in order to research or critique a work. FairUse exceptions also allow teachers to use portions of copyrighted works for the purpose ofeducation. However, if a person uses the work for commercial or profitable means then Fair Usedoes not apply (Ghosh 188). Once copyright was introduced into the United States, it expandedas technology grew. As these copyright laws, specifically for music, passed into being, musicians, labels andcompanies would inevitably challenge them. First, the Apollo Company began selling piano rollsin 1908.Piano rolls allowed a piano to play music without a pianist present. This introduced theissue of whether or not the piano rolls should be copyrighted. Initially, the Supreme Court ruledthat the rolls were not a tangible product, such as sheet music, and therefore could not becopyrighted. However, the Copyright Act of 1909 extended protection to “mechanicalreproductions of music” (Ghosh 185). Then, the issue of cassette tapes occurred when peoplecould record music onto tape. Congress responded by making an amendment to the 1909Copyright Act to include sound recordings. However, bands remained unsatisfied because fanscould record their live performances and share them. In 1994, Congress amended this as well byextending the amendment, making it illegal to “record live performances without the permissionof the performing musicians” (Ghosh 187). These disagreements about copyright law only beganthe drawn out legal battles caused by new technology. MP3 files created an uproar among recording labels when they emerged in 1998 as athreat to the labels’ sales. These Moving Picture Experts Group Level 3 files, shortened to MP3
Hollands 3files, significantly reduced the size of audio files without impairing the quality of the music.Soon after the emergence of the condensed files, MP3 players created a way to store the digitalmusic files on a portable device. Not only could they hold the files, but the players could store atleast an hour of music, and the owner could exchange the music as often as he or she wished. In1998, recording companies began to sue the makers of the MP3 players; however, they lost thecase because the files were not always obtained by illegal means (“Music and Movies”).Musicians such as The Beastie Boys, Tom Petty and Prince decided to release their new albumsbefore the albums’ actual release dates when they realized how popular these files had becomeamong their fans. However, these artists’ record labels found out about these online releases andasked the musicians to remove the files from the internet. Tom Petty’s label reported that “theadvance Tom Petty single was downloaded 150,000 times in the forty-eight hours that it wasavailable” (Fischer 848). Online digital files presented opportunities for increased piracy ofmusic as well as paved the way for further digital music technology. As radio stations became popular, debate occurred as to whether or not musicians shouldget a profit from their songs playing over the radio. This debate initiated when a musician, PaulWhiteman, recorded his music but did not wish for his music to play over the radio. In an attemptto prevent this, he attached a notice to each of his records stating “Not Licensed for RadioBroadcast” (Kilgore 558). When W.B.O. Broadcast aired his songs, Whiteman sued the radiostation. However, the judge ruled that Whiteman would not get paid for the use of his songsbecause the station bought the record and the station simply “put that copy to its intended use”(Kilgore 559). Then, after MP3 files were introduced, programmers created online radiostations that could stream from a computer. These stations would either play exact songsthat the user requested or played songs that the station would recommend based on theuser’s taste in music. Record labels felt threatened by this freedom of choice by users,
Hollands 4claiming, “If consumers could have the ability to listen to any songs they wanted to –whenever they wanted to – for free, why would they ever bother purchasing CDs?”(Hoffman 1521). Initially the Digital Millennium Copyright Act established one flat rate forthe interactive radio stations to pay record labels. However, this proved difficult for thestations to pay due to their lack of profit from advertisements alone. In 2002, the CopyrightArbitration Royalty Panel established a pay per song method which cost only $0.0014 persong. Then, the Library of Congress rejected both of these plans and set a $0.0007 per songroyalty with a minimum payment of $500 per channel (Hoffman 1524). Royaltiessuccessfully satisfied the recording industry, but it also caused many radio stations to shut downdue to lack of funds. Recording labels spent their time, money and human capital on fighting for theircopyrights. Despite all of their efforts to establish law, people find ways to illegally downloadand share music. Currently, the most common problem lies in peer-to-peer file sharing networks.Shawn Fanning initiated these popular sharing sites when he created Napster in 1999. Hisnetwork allowed users to post their favorite songs as well as search for their favorite songs anddownload them immediately without paying. After a short time he had millions of downloads.However, Fanning’s genius site attracted the attention of The Recording Industry Association ofAmerica (RIAA). Fanning attempted to use the Fair Use defense, as well as claiming that hisnetwork did “no irreparable harm to the labels” (Moseley 313). His attempts did not convince thecourt and by 2001, the RIAA effectively shut down the ever-popular Napster. Despite the court’ssuccess, smaller and lesser known peer-to-peer sharing networks will always exist. Once theRIAA eliminates one sharing website or software, someone creates another. After the RIAA initiated the lawsuits against the file sharing networks, they continuedtheir plan against infringement by carrying out lawsuits against the individuals who illegally
Hollands 5downloaded copyrighted music. One of the more popular lawsuits out of millions involves acollege student, Whitney Harper, who downloaded 544 songs and the music industry sued her for34 of those songs for $750 each. Considering that the law allows a recording company to sue acopyright infringer for statutory damages ranging anywhere between $750 at the least to $30,000per song at the most, the proposed fines seem comparatively light. Harper claimed “innocentinfringement” which means that she, as a naïve and young adult, did not realize that sheinfringed upon any copyrights. Then, Harper furthered her defense by saying that the recordcompanies did not give a visible or proper notice of copyrights. However, the courts ultimatelydecided that because of the readily available knowledge on copyrights, Harper could not rely onthe innocent infringement defense, and her sentence remained at $750 in statutory damages forthe 34 songs that she downloaded (Sanders 300). Music and recording industries relayed theirmessage to the public that they would not tolerate copyright infringement. However, it remainsimpossible to file a lawsuit against every individual person who illegally downloads music fromthe internet. Despite their best efforts, the RIAA and other recording labels and associations cannotstop all of the copyright infringement when the internet provides such easy and quick access tomillions of people and millions of songs. Many people debate whether or not music shouldremain copyrighted when copyright infringement seems inevitable and impossible to eradicate.Ironically enough, music labels have proven that “the more a song is given away, the more itsells” (Alexander 74). When musicians give music to the people for free, the band and the labelthat produces them become increasingly popular. Popularity not only provides for more legallypaid for downloads but also more sales in merchandising and live performances. Fans of Napsterformed an alliance against the music industries, taking a “music belongs to the people” stance
Hollands 6(Knight 185). Fans not only argue against paying for music, but they also argue against labelsreceiving royalties from the musicians that provide the music. Five of the biggest recordingcompanies control over sixty percent of the music industry. (Fischer 846). Now, the “musicbelongs to the people” movement carries out their attempts to revolt against the recordingindustries. This movement has recruited the help of many famous musicians to help fight againstroyalties through speeches and providing their own free music. However, it does not appear thatthe recording industry intends to give up on their attempts to stop illegal downloading. Today,without any truly effective way of preventing copyright infringement, one can only questionwhat will happen next for the music industry.