The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is suing Napster for allegedly enabling music piracy through its proprietary MusicShare program. MusicShare allows music lovers to open up their stores of MP 3 files to all other Napster users. Whenever a user is online, his MP 3's are up for grabs, with the only stipulation being that users upload a file for each one that they download. The RIAA says that many of the shared MP 3's are illegal bootlegs, but Napster insists that it "does not, and cannot, control what content is available to [users] using the Napster browser". Citing the many legal issues of its program, Napster makes a firm case.
The first issue revolves around copyright infringement. The RIAA argue that Napster's users are engaging in noncommercial sharing / copying of music, an illegal activity that Napster should be responsible for. Napster argues that this kind of noncommercial consumer copying is recognized as fair use under common-law theories and doctrines, and under the Supreme Court's criteria. With respect to audio recordings, the Audio Home Recording Act directly says that noncommercial copying by consumers is lawful.
The 9th Circuit, in RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia Systems, in 1999, read that statute as permitting noncommercial consumer copying as lawful. Napster feels that they cannot be guilty of vicarious or contributory infringement, because the service unquestionably involves substantial noninfringing uses. One noninfringing use is space shifting. Music listeners space-shift when they copy songs they already own onto more portable media. The 9th Circuit has held that space shifting is clearly a noninfringing use, and both Napster's expert and the RIAA's expert say space-shifting is a very substantial use by Napster users. Another noninfringing use is to distribute music that is either not copyrighted at all, or whose copyright has been lost, or whose copyright holder doesn' object, and that kind of music represents another use of the Napster system.
Another issue includes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This act was specifically designed by Congress to give a safe harbor to Internet service providers so that they would not be held liable for their users' activities. The RIAA argues that if, as a general proposition, you know your users are engaging in some copyright infringement, you can't take advantage of the DMCA. However Napster believes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was designed by Congress to say, "You know, service providers, even though you may have knowledge that some users are engaged in unlawful activity, that doesn't mean you have to monitor what each of your users is doing.".