There’s a Napster-related MSNBC article today that annoys me, because it both spreads misinformation about the law and still uses a pretty untenable rationalization to try to justify theft of music.

First, the woman claims that she’s been making audio tapes of her favorite music for friends, claiming “thanks to the Audio Home Recording Act, that’s not illegal.” Actually, it is illegal; the AHRA only covers personal home use, and mostly covers serial digital recording devices and copies. In perusing the law, I haven’t been able to find a case where distributing copies, even to one’s friends, is legal. (For more on the AHRA, read the law or an OK summary of what it covers.)

(The worst part of this is that the woman is a journalist, and could have done some research about the AHRA before writing her little offhand comment about how it allows her to distribute music.)

Second, it seems that her position is that it’s OK to steal music if it’s not available at her record store (i.e., concert bootlegs). Yet the person who made that recording agreed to a ban on recording when he or she entered the concert; this is the same as agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement before a computer company will let you beta test their software. And just as I’m not allowed to distribute that software (e.g., updates to Pike or Radio Userland — see the licenses for each — or the Windows Me betas that I get every month), I’m also not allowed to distribute bootleg music. And if I receive said things, then I too have violated someone’s copyright.

Someone asked me a few days ago why it is that I so adamant about all of this. My response is that it’s because I, too, create things on which I hold a copyright in full or part (software, scientific papers, photographs). If I want other people to respect my copyrights, then I should damn well respect everyone else’s.

What is interesting to me is that there are some pretty high-profile people out there — columnists, software authors, news reporters — that are supporting Napster, yet most would probably be the first in line to file suit if someone started distributing their copyrighted works. Of course, that’s just an assumption, and I could be wrong about that. Maybe someone out there should test the theory.


As a creator of copyrighted material (specifically several books), the thing that bugs me most about Napster is that the company itself is trying to make money off of other people’s creative work.

I really don’t have much of a problem with people sharing information, if someone loaned a book I wrote to a friend, or even photocopied the whole thing, because that person wanted to learn SQL or CGI programming, I wouldn’t have a beef. More power to them, I hope they enjoy the book and get a lot out of it.

On the other hand, if a company scanned my book and distributed it over the Internet in hopes of making a boatload of cash through an IPO, or by selling it and other works, or whatever, I’d sue them with extreme prejudice. Music sharing (and sharing of other copyrighted material) is largely inoffensive to me; Napster the company is very offensive to me.

• Posted by: Rafe Colburn on Aug 7, 2000, 9:51 AM
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