Napster was the first file sharing service that allowed college students to share music MP3 files among one another. RIAA sued Napster in 199 with a trial in 2000. The RIAA argued that Napster users were engaged in the wholesale reproduction and distribution of copyrighted works, thus constituting direct copyright infringement. The 9th Circuit Court agreed.
The court did a four-factor Fair Use analysis and concluded that the typical uses of Napster would not qualify for Fair Use. First, the purpose and character. The court concluded the transfer of files through Napster was commercial because it substituted for a purchase. Secondly, most of the items transferred through Napster were creative works and therefore “Closer to the core of copyright protection.” Third, Napster users would copy entire songs, the amount of work copied could not be supported under Fair Use. Fourth, the effect on the market was harmful as it reduced the demand for CDs and became a barrier to others seeking to enter the digital music market.
Napster was found guilty of contributory copyright infringement and of vicarious copyright infringement. The Napster program encouraged users to copy files from other users, with no notification of whether those files were legal to download. Napster was shut down by the end of the trial.
While Napster was being shut down by legal decree, dozens of other programmers were at work. The Napster idea – of free sharing of music and other files by thousands of Internet users – was too big an idea to just go away. Very soon after the demise of Napster, other services such as Grokster, KaZaa, Gnutella, and others became available. These services operated without a central server or listings of available files, and were able to connect one user directly with another. Monitoring of a service like Grokster or KaZaa could not provide a list of users.
Visitors to the Grokster site could download – free – peer-to-peer file sharing software. The software allowed computer users to connect directly to each other and trade digitized documents. Grokster did not provide a central server or any support for their activities. Because it was not involved with the user’s activities, the people creating Grokster believed that they were not liable for potential copyright infringement.
Grokster was very popular. Not surprisingly, the music and movie companies took legal action. The RIAA and MPAA sued Grokster in the Los Angeles Federal Court in 2003. The court upheld the Grokster argument, based on the earlier case, Sony Corp v. Universal Studios (1984), in which the Supreme Court determined that a software or device with “substantial non-infringing uses” could not be held liable for some users who chose to infringe upon copyrights. The RIAA and MPAA were able to appeal this ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of appeals, which also ruled in favor of Grokster. “The lower courts found the intent of the network operators was irrelevant if there was not actual participation in the illegal copying activity.” Because the first two trials ruled in favor of Grokster, it is relatively easy to find news articles declaring the victory of Grokster over the music industry. Grokster’s fate was determined by