L O S A N G E L E S, Sept. 14, 2000 -- Napster, Inc., the online music swapping service embroiled in a legal battle against the Recording Industry Association of America, says it’s all about control.
In a brief filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week, the song-swap company charged major record labels with keeping a “chokehold” on music promotion and distribution. Napster argued that the traditional methods of developing and marketing musical acts are firmly under the control of a select few companies, and Napster is not one of them.
Napster’s lead attorney, David Boies, stated that the RIAA made “serious errors” in its court filings and ignored or minimized legal precedentsfavorable to the controversial Web company.
Copyright Infringement at Issue
Redwood City, Calif.,-based Napster is a wildly popular service thatlets fans swap songs in MP3 format — a compressiontechnology that packs compact disc-quality sound into small computerfiles.
The RIAA contends that Napster’s file-exchanging service “enables,encourages and directly benefits from” copyright infringement onmillions of protected works.
The U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Justice Departmentsided with the recording industry in Amici Curiae (Friends of the Court) briefsfiled Friday, along with 20 groups from the entertainment,publishing and sports industries.
“This case is not about any diminution in the value ofplaintiff’s copyrights; none has occurred or is reasonablyforeseeable as the result of Napster,” Napster’s legal papers state.
“This case is about whether plaintiffs can use their controlover music copyrights to achieve control over Napster’sdecentralized technology and prevent it from transforming theInternet in ways that might undermine their present chokehold onmusic promotion and distribution.”
On July 26, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel granted a preliminaryinjunction against Napster, ordering it to prevent all big labels’copyrighted songs from being traded using its service.
A last-minute stay by the appellate court allowed Napster to continue its service at least until the case is resolved. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hasscheduled oral argument for Oct. 2.
Boies, a lawyer well known for representing the JusticeDepartment in the Microsoft antitrust case, has argued that Napster is protected by the Audio Home Recording Act,which he says was misinterpreted by the RIAA.
The RIAA, which represents big record companies like SeagramCo. Ltd.’s Universal Music, Bertelsmann AG BMG, Sony Corp.’s SonyMusic and Time Warner’s Warner Music Group and EMI, first suedNapster for copyright infringement in December. And although its vigorous litigation against Napster has rankled manyof the company’s 22 million users, who freely trade music from theBeatles to Britney Spears around the clock, the association’spresident, Hilary Rosen, said last week it’s Napster and not thetechnology that is the target of the recording industry’s ire.
“We are not suing technology. We are suing a company that isstealing work that does not belong to them,” Rosen said. “Theycannot build a multibillion dollar business on the backs of otherpeople’s works.”
Boies has countered that a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowingSony’s Betamax technology supports Napster, stating theRIAA has attempted to minimize that decision “to the point oftransforming it into … a nullity, [allowing it to come into] play only in the most extreme and implausible circumstances.”
Some legal experts say the Sony case is Napster’s best chanceof winning its legal battle against the RIAA, which could helpdefine how books, movies and music are distributed in theInternet age.