Challenging Copyright


Napster is now a Best Buy company offering music downloads for paid subscribers. You can listen to full songs without having to download them. You can access your music on your devices, and you can have access to the largest music streaming catalog available. Starting at only $4.17/month, the music you crave is at your fingertips.


Napster, started by a college drop-out, is a peer-to-peer file sharing network filled with rare, live, album, and unreleased music that is free to users willing to wait out the downloads on their dial-up networks. You can burn the mp3 files to blank compact discs that you can carry around in your DiscMan.

The Napster Story

As Shawn Fanning was bored with college, he began programming for Napster, a service he wanted to create to make it easier to find music mp3’s online rather than using the search engines of those times. When Shawn unleashed the service in June 1999 to a couple of chatroom friends who couldn’t keep a secret, 3-4 thousand users downloaded the program and it was clear that this could have big business potential. Funded and encouraged by his uncle John Fanning, they pressed forward with Napster and it quickly became a profitable success. John does claim to have investigated possible future legal issues with copyright laws and intended the company to follow all laws. Those involved felt that Napster was protected under fair use laws, the same that allow a person to tape record a song for another person. Napster didn’t host the files, it merely offered the network where peers could trade with each other. They did not monitor or have control to the content that was traded and they had hopes that the service would bring attention to many unsigned bands and even warned users not to infringe on copyrighted works.

The record industry felt differently. And although executives at Napster felt sure they would be able to strike a deal with the record industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster in December 1999. The RIAA feared that Napster was creating a black market for illegal copies of digital music. They argued that this could, and already had affected hardcopy album sales in stores. Meanwhile, Napster moved their headquarters to Silicon Valley and searched for months for a venture capitalist to back the company.  They were having a hard time finding anyone willing to back the company since it was hard for anyone to see how they could face and win their impending legal battles. To make it even worse, the band Metallica sued Napster for copyright infringement in April 2000 after tracks from their unreleased album leaked out onto Napster months before the album was to be released. But they still pushed on, hiring new executives who were capable of bringing the startup into a real money-making business model and of negotiating with the record companies. The creators, the technology and the audience was there, ready to make Napster a success. But the licensing issues were holding the entire force back. They needed to find a way that the artists and the labels received royalties for the downloaded music.The court date came in July, nearly a year after the service took off, and the judge took only 2 hours to decide that the RIAA was in the right and that Napster had to shut off all access to its music service by midnight that Friday. Devastated, the Napster team felt they had to regroup and find a new way to legally bring music to people.

My Opinion

And now here in 2011, you have Napster, owned by Best Buy still offering convenient music for consumers, but this time, for a small price. I think part of the problem of Napster was the freedom users had mixed with the users’ ignorance of copyright laws. At the time I personally was using Napster, I did not know about or understand those laws. Since the service was available, I used it and figured it must be O.K. to do. And it has never seemed to me that Napster set out to kick the music business in the crotch with it’s free service. I believe that Shawn’s intention was to create a community of music and he never intended to hurt artists, but rather help them and their listeners. I think Napster brought to the forefront, in a clumsy way, the obvious need for the music industry to stay ahead of technology and to protect itself. Music naturally lends itself to grassroots movements, and Napster was perfect in that respect. Compact Discs weren’t cutting it for consumers who had access to the internet and were becoming accustomed to having access to what they wanted at the very moment they wanted it, and so Napster came in and filled that void. I know I still have CD’s lying around filled with tracks that I had downloaded through Napster’s original service. The experience with Napster sure primed me for iTunes music downloading service, as I now have spent hundreds on the pay-per-song service. I love being able to have access to music instantly, even on my smartphone, and I thank Napster for blazing the rocky trail.



who owns what?

When I think of copyright laws, I first think of my early experiences with Napster. The program became available and I thought it was the best thing in the world- spending long long hours downloading songs. I never even had a thought that it would be considered “stealing” from the artists. I downloaded singles, albums, but mostly a lot of unreleased, live and demo songs from my favorite artists. And now, looking back, I guess my “payment” for this music was the countless hours I spent in front of my computer working my download “queue” and networking with other sharers.

This was in high school, around 2000-1, and then more attention was paid to Napster, by Metallica and other artists who were upset that their songs leaked onto Napster before they were actually released. And then we started hearing all about copyright infringement and I learned it was no longer safe to use Napster. As I entered college, I became more fascinated with the laws and sided with the music artists and took a stand against illegal downloading of music. I even gave a persuasive speech in speech class about it. Since then, I do believe that I’ve file-shared a bit between family and friends, but I’ve also spent HUNDREDS to have my music legally available through iTunes.

But what does this mean for me in the classroom? And, since my experience was with music- how do I apply it to images? Have I ever considered image use in classes I’ve been in?

So of course, I wanted to start my thoughts on digital copyright laws with a clear definition:

Definition of Copyright:
“The legal right granted to an author, a composer, a playwright, a publisher, or a distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work.” 

But I love this layman’s definition even better:

“This means that you can get in just as much trouble for stealing someone’s song as you can for stealing her purse.”

Now as a teacher-artist, I immediately think of Google Images and how often I run to that to pull images from. Do I have the right to even do that? Most of the time I’m not paying attention to WHERE the image is coming from or WHO, but I just need that image right then and there. I know that when I worked in newspaper advertising, we used a paid stock image service with thousands of photos and images that we could use in our ads or in illustrating stories. But outside of that, I pull images for art projects, presentations, even posters. And I might have used some of these pulled images in the classroom….uh oh.

Ok, so I found a great website that seems to put this all into plain english, PLUS it is geared towards educators! (yay!)  (haha, i figured out how to make sure that opens for you in a new window!)

Reading up, I had no idea that ideas and creations were “automatically” copyrighted! Under our Constitution, any original, creative work is copyrighted. This site even says that since 1989, the copyright symbol and the phrase “all rights reserved” aren’t even necessary anymore! But, as teachers, we are mostly protected in presenting images/music/movies to our classrooms under the Fair Use rule.

After learning that most young people today are using YouTube over Google for basic search, I sought info on Fair Use/Copyright on YouTube. Most helpful, I found this vide0: The description of Fair Use is helpful, and the quick and dirty, helped to clarify the issue overall for me.

But more specifically, this video is a guy who is actually in a technology for education class (like us!) and is using some “high-tech” gimmicks in his presentation here. He recommends this website that even has an easy-to-use handout that teachers can print! And then as I’m digging, I realize that this guy has his own blog! and BINGO! I’ve found some super relevant info on copyright and education!

But overall I have learned that as educators, we have some freedoms under the Fair Use rule. And here are the rules:

Fair Use and Teachers

Fair use explicitly allows use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Rather than listing exact limits of fair use, copyright law provides four standards for determination of the fair use exemption:

  1. Purpose of use: Copying and using selected parts of copyrighted works for specific educational purposes qualifies as fair use, especially if the copies are made spontaneously, are used temporarily, and are not part of an anthology.
  2. Nature of the work: For copying paragraphs from a copyrighted source, fair use easily applies. For copying a chapter, fair use may be questionable.
  3. Proportion/extent of the material used: Duplicating excerpts that are short in relation to the entire copyrighted work or segments that do not reflect the “essence” of the work is usually considered fair use.
  4. The effect on marketability: If there will be no reduction in sales because of copying or distribution, the fair use exemption is likely to apply. This is the most important of the four tests for fair use.
I think teachers mostly need to be careful about the worksheets they use. It’s got to be so easy to just make copies, pass them along and before you know it, you passing out most of the book for 6 years. In the past, when I have taught (guitar, piano) lessons, I have built my own worksheets. I usually do this so that they can be exactly what I need at the time. If I can keep this up, it will be an easy way to avoid the copyright problems with published workbooks. And I think that showing film might also be easily problematic for a teacher. Even though you may not be showing the movie to the entire school at one time, you may be showing class by class to the entire school, and that may be problematic with the law.
In the end, as teachers, we should be very aware of the materials they use in the classroom. And I think it is important to relate that to the students as well so that they can learn the copyright laws. So, maybe when you are passing out copied materials, remind the students of why you made this copy and how it is OK that you do so in this case. This will also help to keep you accountable as a teacher.