Arresting Technology

33 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2002

See all articles by Ann Bartow

Ann Bartow

Franklin Pierce Center for IP at UNH Law


This Essay considers the current trend of content owners using copyright laws (particularly the doctrine of contributory infringement) to "arrest technology," thereby burdening file sharing technologies with a duty to prevent unauthorized copying of copyrighted works in digital formats. The Author argues that copying is not necessarily theft, and that sharing music files (for example) shouldn't be treated by courts or lawmakers as if it was "the moral equivalent of looting." Instead, copyright owners should take responsibility for developing technological measures to minimize unauthorized copying, so that file trading technologies, themselves often copyrightable innovations, can flourish and copyright law promotes rather than arrests technological developments, as it is intended to do. The Essay further notes that having learned a lesson from recent copyright litigation like the Napster case, many online technologies will activity "resist arrest" by remaining decentralized and hard to sue or regulate. Additionally, the Author observes that while some authors lose revenues when unauthorized copying occurs, other authors lose important distribution mechanisms while file trading technologies are shut down. Though it can be put to both positive and negative uses, technology itself is copyright neutral. Meanwhile, copyright owners who engage in rhetoric about being victimized by large scale piracy ought to be required to prove these allegations before they are allowed to influence laws or legislators. If they truly feel they can't make adequate profits on copyrighted content, perhaps they should diversify into other commercial ventures, and allow new business models and distribution techniques the opportunity to evolve around creative works.

Keywords: copyrights, Napster, digital music, technology, intellectual property, Peer-to-peer file trading, unauthorized copying, file trading over the Internet

JEL Classification: k19, k29, k39, k49

Suggested Citation

Bartow, Ann, Arresting Technology. Buffalo Intellectual Property Law Journal, Vol. 1, Summer 2001. Available at SSRN: or

Ann Bartow (Contact Author)

Franklin Pierce Center for IP at UNH Law ( email )

Two White Street
Concord, NH 03301
United States

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