With the creation of any new technology and its introduction to society, there follows a legal inertia. The courts for the most part cannot know of any ill effects of such technologies until they are unleashed into the hands of the public and are tested by consumers. As more and more capabilities of a new technology are discovered, it is likely that the innovation is pushing its legal limits more and more. The field of innovation has thus become a battleground between new technologies and intellectual property rights, which in most cases boils down to the public interest versus the private interest, pitting individuals and small businesses againstcorporate giants such as the Recording Industry Association of America.

The recent subpoenas filed by the RIAA against private file-sharing individuals have taken on the form of a witch hunt; some individuals might have to pay the RIAA anywhere from $750 to $150,000 per each infringement for taking part in something they either thought was legal or were unaware they were partaking in. Marilyn Rodell, for example, remarked that her mother, who is being sued by the RIAA, "paid $29.95 for Kazaa and assumed she was using a legitimate service. How was she supposed to know the difference between Kazaa and something like Pressplay where you pay $9.95 a month?"

The RIAA is pointing fingers at file-sharers and blaming them for the decrease in CD sales. File-sharers are enraged at the RIAA's invasive techniques for finding infringers and identifying them through their IP addresses, as well as Kazaa for not alerting them that some of the files they are downloading may be illegal. In fact, the RIAA's evidence-collection process has been found to be inconsistent; on two separate accounts the RIAA has misidentified two consumers by their IP addresses. Sixty-five year-old Sarah Ward, a Mac user, was accused of downloading copyrighted materials via Kazaa, which is only available to PC users, as was Ross Plank, a software engineer, who does not have and has never had Kazaa on his computer.

Arguments are flying all over the place in courts,editorials, blogs, chats, etc.;, college students are panicking and "hiding" their goods by not sharing; and attorneys are licking their chops at this fresh kill laying in front of them. I'm just a few years premature to cash in on this marvel in intellectual property law… damn.

You can pick at each different side's argument until you start running in circles, but when you reach the bottom of the barrel, you'll only find one thing in common with these arguments: total utter confusion. Consumers generally do not read the user agreement forms that pop up in front of them when downloading or installing software; it has become an immediate reaction to click the "I accept" box and click the "Next" button.

Besides, if you choose not to accept, you cannot use the software. You either play by the rules of the distributor or you don't play at all:; no contract negotiations. As such, very few consumers are aware of Kazaa's user agreement that holds Kazaa unaccountable for any illegal files being shared on their system.

The problem arises, however, when millions of consumers begin file-sharing, ignoring these agreement forms, and adopting their file-sharing practices as a normative part of their lives. Some cannot even see how something such as the belated Napster or Kazaa could possibly be illegal. They tend to equate the peer-to-peer file-sharing that takes place on these networks to sharing a CD with a friend, which is perfectly legal under copyright law. The recording industry, on the other hand, likens such practices to walking into BestBuy and pocketing CDs without paying for them. When big business begins to label consumers' normative practices as deviance, consumers' norms are shaken from their foundations, there arises a backlash against corporate America, and confusion settles in.

Of course, the alternative to logging onto Kazaa to obtain Mp3s is to actually buy the CDs, but it is generally the case that consumers are interested in only a few selections from the CD. Suchalternatives as Streamwaves.com allows you to "download" songs for $0.99 a piece, or pay a monthly or yearly flat fee to use the service. Your selections, however, are maintained through and kept on the Streamwaves site, making it impossible to save the music on your PC or burn them. The selection of such music services is usually limited as well; smaller labels are usually not well represented. Have no fear Kazaa loyalists, in addition to networks such as Gnutella and LimeWire, a new peer-to-peer file sharing network alternative, NeoModus' Direct Connect is making its way onto consumers' PCs. NeoModus is free to download and allows you to directly connect to, search within, and download from numerous users depending on the types of files you wish to acquire. As of yet, the new network has not made its way onto the RIAA's hitlist.

Who is to blame? What can be done? I find the legal institution to blame. There has to be a better way of making the public more informed of the legal repercussions of their actions; the end-user agreements have become more like traps for the uneducated consumer. Furthermore, a certain amount of technical know-how is required for consumers to make informed decisions in their Internet/digital activities.

This legal inertia that we often get caught up in tends to chastise certain actions after they have become the norm, and thus consumers must also keep up to date in legal decisions. The solution? If you consider intellectual property law to be similar to a sinking ship, as John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation does, then you might lean towards a total reformation of the legal institution in regards to copyright law. Or maybe we can appoint Ms. Cleo to the World Intellectual Property Association so she may inform us of all pending innovations and legal problems they might bring with them.

(http://www.streamwaves.com/home.asp)
(http://www.neo-modus.com/)

 

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