File-Sharing Copyrighted Works without Authorization: A Misguided Social Movement

7 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2019

See all articles by Peter S. Menell

Peter S. Menell

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: February 17, 2010

Abstract

A little more than a decade ago, Napster rocked the music industry by enabling anyone with a computer and an Internet connection to costlessly and virtually anonymously distribute files to millions of others. After the recording industry brought enforcement actions, file-sharers, their attorneys, and many legal scholars defended their actions as both morally and legally justifiable. A team of crusading law students led by Professor Charles Nesson sought to build a social movement supporting file-sharing.

This commentary questions the ethics of file-sharing popular music. The Nesson team’s choice to employ the rhetoric of social-justice movements devalues other, legitimate social movements, misleads the public, and obscures the critical legal issues – the scope of copyright’s distribution right and how statutory damages should be applied in file-sharing cases. The strategy backfired.

The commentary contends that the social-justice movement analogy should similarly be rejected in the court of public opinion as a cynical, self-serving ploy. The commentary offers a more constructive antidote to addressing historical injustices of the recording industry and the need to adapt copyright law and music industry practices to the Internet Age.

Keywords: File-sharing, statutory damages, Joel Tenenbaum, Charles Nesson, Digital Copyright, Copyright Infringement

Suggested Citation

Menell, Peter S., File-Sharing Copyrighted Works without Authorization: A Misguided Social Movement (February 17, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3477653 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3477653

Peter S. Menell (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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