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You can hardly own a computer today and not know about MP3 files MP3 is shorthand for Moving Picture Experts Group MPEG 1 Layer 3 It is a compression technique that makes large files smaller for easier storage and downloading They are widely used and have become very popular recently especially with the emergence of the file-sharing program Napster This file-sharing program allows people to trade music files over the Internet for free This brings up problems with Intellectual Property IP and copyright laws IP is the generic descriptor of the work product of authors and inventors In the United States intellectual property is protected by copyright patent trademark and trade secret law The Recording Industry Association of America RIAA filed a lawsuit against Napster in December 1999 The association which represents the major US record companies is seeking up to 100000 in damages for each copyright-protected song allegedly exchanged illegally using Napster software No music trades actually take place on computers owned by Napster Nor does the company monitor users to see whether they are trading copyrighted material however it does warn users that MP3 files could be illegally copied and that distributing such material is illegal Napster believes it is covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act DMCA The DMCA was specifically designed by congress to give a safe harbor to Internet Service Providers ISP so they are not liable for their users activities It does not matter whether the ISP has any knowledge of user misuse or not Napsters only alleged liability is for contributory or vicarious infringement You cannot have contributory or vicarious without having some underlying infringement When Napster users engage in noncommercial sharing of music noncommercial copying of music Is that an activity of copyright infringement Napster attorney David Boies says no because this type of noncommercial consumer copying is recognized as Fair Use under common law theories and doctrines under the
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