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Ever since Napster was publicly launched, back in June 1999, peer-to-peer networking has been one of the biggest concerns to intellectual property owners. In 2000, the band Metallica, and the rapper Dr Dre filed a lawsuit against the Napster service, because they had discovered that their music was being distributed over the network. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) also filed a lawsuit against the service as early as December 1999, resulting in the eventual closure of the service in July 2001.

The RIAA wanted the service to be shut down because its members were not getting any royalties for the music being distributed over the network. RIAA's members were concerned that as file sharing became more popular, in-store CD sales would decrease because people would already have the music they wanted, and would have no need to purchase it.

Despite Napster being accused of hurting sales, it was doing quite the opposite. One example in particular, was in April 2000, when a number of tracks from Radiohead's album Kid A appeared on Napster three months prior to the CD becoming available in the shops. At this time, Radiohead had never reached the US Top 20. In addition to this, Kid A was an experimental album that was not given radio airplay, and did not receive much in the way of promotion. It was considered an ideal test of Napster's promotional power, as the service's effect was separated from other elements. By the time of the album's release, Kid A had been downloaded by millions of people across the world. The RIAA was prepared for the worst, but the surprise came when Kid A did better than break the US Top 20; it US Number 1 in it's debut week, beating competition from much more heavily promoted artists, such as Madonna and Eminem.

The music industry was not alone in its fear of peer-to-peer networks, however; one other peer-to-peer network that has gained popularity in recent years is the BitTorrent network is aimed more at large file transfers. The fact that BitTorrent was able to distribute large files such as CD and DVD images concerned both the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which represents computer software developers such as Apple and Microsoft, and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents Hollywood movie-production companies such as Universal.

The above example of Napster serving as a form of word-of-mouth advertising is also true of BitTorrent. There are surveys showing that people who download one or two tracks of an album from peer-to-peer networks are more likely to go out and buy the entire album rather than not at all. Likewise, there are surveys showing that people who download software do often eventually purchase the software if they like it. The process of downloading software would appear to be viewed by many as a “try-before-you-buy” system, on the user's terms, rather than the software company's terms.


Xiaohe, Lu On P2P File-Sharing: A Major Problem – A Chinese Perspective. Journal of Business Ethics. 63(1):63-73, January 2006.

Liang, Zhengqiang; Shi, Weisong Enforcing Cooperative Resource Sharing in Untrusted P2P Computing Environments. Mobile Networks & Applications. 10(6):971-983, December 2005

Al-Shahi, R 1; Sadler, M 2; Rees, G 3; Bateman, D 4 The internet. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. 73(6):619-628, December 2002.

Spinello, Richard A. The future of intellectual property. Ethics & Information Technology. 5(1):1-16, 2003.

Wikimedia Foundation Napster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Viewed: May 09, 2006; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napster.


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May. 9th, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)
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