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Critical analysis of Napster case and post-Napster developments



Between October 1999 and March 2001, music enthusiasts all across the world were treated to an unparalleled, limitless volume of music—all for free. The free ride came to an end in February 2001, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a judgement. The Ninth Circuit sustained a preliminary injunction requiring Napster, the enormously famous online music sharing system, to stop making unauthorized copyrighted music available on its site in A&MRecords, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. Napster was created by Shawn Fanning, a nineteen-year-old college student looking for a way to make finding music on the Internet less stressful. It was then known as one of the “killer applications”.In its brief two-year existence, Napster became a household name and a worldwide hit, garnering an estimated fifty to seventy million users.But, as a result of Napster’s success, the recording industry screamed copyright violation, and Napster, the revolutionary system, became Napster, the embattled, alleged offender.When the recording business sued Napster in October of 20006, the case sparked debate about technology, law, and Internet regulation. Despite scholarly disputes concerning the new frontier of the internet and legal issues, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took a clear approach in the Napster case.

The court in Napster case

The Circuit Court concurred with the trial court’s conclusion that Napster users were most likely infringing on plaintiffs’ copyrights directly.

The court decided on the following points:

  1. Fair Use– The Circuit court concurred with the district court’s “general analysis of Napster system uses” along with its consideration of the three “alleged fair uses identified by Napster” – “sampling, where users make temporary copies of a work before buying;liberal distribution of songs by both new and established artists; and space-shifting, when users access a sound recording through the Napster system that they already own in audio CD format.”

The first four pointers considered by the court are as follows:

  • The purpose and nature of the use, including whether it is for commercial or educational purposes;
  • Secondly, the court considered that what was the nature of the copyright work;
  • The size and significance of the piece used in relation to the entire copyrighted work; and
  • Lastly, the court examined the impact of the use on the copyrighted work’s potential market or value.

Even though no sales were made, Napster’s platform allowed for “repeated and exploitative” copying, which satisfied the definition of the first criteria. Furthermore, songs were discovered to be “near to the core” of the types of creative works expected to be protected by copyright, and complete songs were acquired, pitting Napster against the second and third factors.Finally, the effect of the downloads was discovered to be detrimental to potential record sales, putting an end to Napster’s case for a fair use defence.

  • As for the second claim which was of contributory infringementNapster was well aware of massive infringement on its system, and its policing measures were woefully inadequate. Furthermore, because Napster was a substantial contributor to the infringement, the appellants are likely to prevail on this allegation.Consequently, the court determined that Napster’s lack of effort to limit infringement, along with the fact that the corporation gained financially from it, rendered vicarious infringement success plausible.

As a consequence, the court ordered the creation of an adequate injunction against another future infringing activity by Napster in accordance with its ruling.

The Napster ruling is a clear triumph not only for the music business, but also for the idea that intellectual property in cyberspace should be subjected to the very same legal scrutiny as it is in real life.The court gave Napster little credit as a technological advances that promotes freedom of expression and information access. Rather, it advocates for classical copyright analyses and means of spreading copyrighted data.

The world after Napster

The music industry was horrified by Napster, but it also showed how digital distribution could be beneficial. The ability to interact directly with a single customer without the hassle and expense of a physical distribution network is one of the most important.The music industry started to see PC and Internet technology as important marketing tools for recording artists and labels. Label websites could also be used to advertise new releases, supply music samples, and enable close proximity access to an artist’s back catalogue.Although this may seem that the industry has wedded to established revenue models, a variety of pay-per-download and online subscription services started being tested.

Napster from Indian Point of View

Under the Indian law, copyright Infringement is said to have done only when:

  • Either the copyright wok is stored or reproduced;
  • There is selling or hiring involved;
  • Copies of the work are issued to the public;
  • The work is communicated to the public or is performed for the public;
  • If the work is translated or turned into any adaptation.

Therefore, the activities that were held to be an infringement in Napster’s case will not apply to India.

One more point that should be noted is that, in India broadcasting any copyright work without the license from the owner is considered infringement, but no broadcasting is happening in the case of Napster.

Until and unless the courts interpret the facts and decide on the point of infringement the legal position will remain unclear. Although in India, western thought is readily acceptable. But one thing that should be kept in mind is there no statutory right available against such infringement.

If Napster wants to claim immunity, it can do so under the IT Act, 2000 under network service provider provision. A network service provider under this section can claim immunity if he proves that such contravention was outside the scope of his knowledge.


The rights and motivation that comes along with copyright should not be ignored. It should be understood that copyright work is more than just a commodity to be sold in the market. What is needed is to frame a copyright policy that balances the two, that is to protect and reward the creator’s artistic works and that ensures the flow of information and its sharing. The focus should be on developing a uniform version of “Digital rights Management” technology which will help putting an end to the chaos and confusion. DRMs are essential because they allow the copyright owners to exercise better control over their work than any other copyright law. If the policy makers and technology experts work together this gap can be bridged in no time.


Contributed by:– Nidhi Jha, Legal intern at LLL

 Napster developmentsNapster from Indian Point of ViewThe court in Napster case

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