Clinton Administration Says Napster Violates the Law!

By Robert Menta
09/11/00

The Clinton Administration today has made it's announcement and a curious one at that. It seems they have taken sides in the Napster case.

In a move that can have significant legal repercussions for the popular file-swap program, The Feds have stepped in with a their amicus brief that sections of the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) being used in Napster's defense do not apply to the file-trading application. The brief was filed by not one, but three government agencies The US Copyright Office, the Patent and Trademark Office, and the Justice Department.


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Twenty "friend-of-the-court" briefs from the major media conglomerates accompanied the government's brief including one from the Recording Industry Association of America, the group that is suing Napster.

The heart of the argument applies to that Section 1008 of the AHRA that lawyers for Napster claim protects the file-trading network. This argument, was dismissed by judge Patel who's finding ruled that the AHRA applies only to physically manufactured products such as portable music players, and does not extend to software applications.

"Section 1008 was adopted to address a very different phenomenon - the non-commercial consumer use of digital audio recording devices such as DAT tape decks, to perform 'home taping' of musical works," the government wrote to the court in support of Patel's ruling. "Napster's efforts to bring itself within the ambit of Section 1008 flouts the terms of the statute."

The government pointed out four points in their brief:

  1. Computers used by Napster subscribers don't meet the definitions of the "devices" or "media" protected by Section 1008 of the AHRA. The act says a digital audio recording device is designed and marketed "for the primary purpose of ... making a digital audio copied recording for private use." Since personal computers aren't sold primarily as music-copying machines, they aren't protected by the AHRA.
  2. Napster users aren't making "digital musical recordings" as described by the AHRA. This seems the most outrageous of claims and appears to be a matter of legal definition that frankly isn't clear. Theoretically, by this definition, computers do not qualify as digital music recorders under the AHRA.
  3. The agencies said Section 1008 protects only non-commercial copying and not public distribution. Under the Copyright Act, they argued, a distinction is made between "reproduction" and "public distribution." Even if the owner of a CD is permitted by law to make a copy of that work, the act does not assign that person the right to distribute it "by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental lease, or lending."
  4. Section 1008 doesn't state that duplicating music in digital format is not copyright infringement; it simply states that legal action can't be taken against consumers who do so according to the rules. Even if Napster subscribers can't be held accountable, Napster might be.

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