Illegal Sharing of Music Files-Who's Getting Sued and Why | Print |
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During a keynote speech I was giving in New York in 2008, I spent some time addressing the topic of illegal peer-to-peer sharing of music files and a particular incident that occurred at a university in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The administrators and library media specialists to whom I was speaking were from K-12, and I could tell the deeper we got into the discussion of the copyright subject, they were becoming quite uncomfortable yet, more and more interested.

During our first break, a lady came up to me and introduced herself as being one of the parents in the case I referenced. She said that she was one of the few parents who decided to fight the copyright case against her son and go head-to-head with the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and their attorneys regarding the lawsuit against her son.

She told me first hand that they settled out of court for $65,000.00. This not only got the charges dropped, but also gave her son a clean, non-criminal record.

The network that was made available by the university was Limewire, a peer-to- peer file-sharing software that enabled the students to share various types of files. Unfortunately, the students chose to share copyrighted music files.

One thing my conversation with the parent showed me is just how wide-spread and accepted illegal sharing of music files is, and how it can unexpectedly hit so close to home to those who thought they would never fall suspect and find themselves in a multi-million dollar lawsuit and facing criminal charges.

Software such as Gnutella, LimeWire, Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and other free, open-source software used to trade any type of file such as MP3’s have been popular networks for pirating music since Napster, one of the first networks appeared in June of 1999.

By definition,
file sharing is the distribution or provision of digitally stored information, such as computer programs, media, documents, or electronic books and can be implemented in a variety of distribution, transmission and storage models. To complicate the situation, companies such as Limewire and Kazaaa are not illegal, but the fact that copyrighted materials are being exchanged does in fact make the process illegal.

Since the networks are free, they can also impose system hazards to your computer since many of the devices are either free-ware or share-ware.

Upon receiving an MP3 audio file via an email from a friend, my daughter innocently double-clicked to open the music file, and some version of LimeWire installed itself onto our system. We removed the program, but not before it did a fair amount of damage to the computer.

A Brief History of File Sharing of Music

Napster L.L.C. (formerly Roxio) was an online, music file-sharing program created by Shawn Fanning while he was attending Northeastern University in Boston, MA and began operation in 1999. The software enabled music fans to freely share and exchange songs.

Napster grew in popularity, and so did the recognition by those with whom it would raise concern. Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel for the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) which represents the five major labels and several smaller labels said “

Napster is about facilitating piracy, and trying to build a business on the backs of artists and copyright owners." In December 1999, the RIAA sued Napster for copyright infringement.

In February 2001, it was ruled that Napster had to discontinue the distribution of copyrighted songs via the network. By July 2001, the courts additional ruling was that Napster must block all file types and the company was forced to close.

Lars Ulrich, the drummer for the band Metallica were among the artists who partnered with the RIAA to have Napster put out of business and even filed their own lawsuit against the company. Although the original service was shut down by court order, Napster opened the door for decentralized peer-to-peer file-distribution programs such as LimeWire, Grokster, Kazaa, Morpheus and others of their kind and paved the way for many recent lawsuits.

But something very positive also occurred, in 2001, Apple launched its iTunes software whereby a pay-per-song process was implemented and revolutionized the way music fans would obtain, listen to and share music.

In 2003, the RIAA began using software to target such pirated music and to seek suit against those individuals sharing it. To date, the RIAA continues to pursue those sharing files illegally.

Here are links to current and past lawsuits involving illegal peer-to-peer file sharing of music files:

Tenenbaum verdict: $675K

Minnesota Woman Fined $1.92M in File-Sharing Retrial,2933,527284,00.html

RIAA Pre-Litigation Letters Sent to MIT

RIAA sues campus file-swappers

Mom Pays $2,000, Apologizes To Settle Recording Industry Suit

Illegal downloads bring lawsuits for 10

There are now many popular and legal online distributors of music for personal and home use in addition to iTunes. (Since this article is related to school videos, it is important to note that just because a student or teacher’s purchase of legal music does not necessarily permit them to use the music in their video.) Here are a few legal sites from which to choose:


Napster24-7 (yes, Napster is legal now!)


Audio Lunchbox







Bell Mobility







Peer Impact






Mix and Burn

And here is a list of official, legal online retailers that are currently available:

Being one who headed the launch of independent record labels back in the late 90’s (for which we continue to give the major record labels a run for their money and hopefully make them question their current business models), I have always been one who is “music for the people.” My partners and me have shared music, given away free music and launched bands worldwide via the free mechanism. However, we always did it legally (with permissions or in exchange for promotions via a written agreement.)

I have been asked many times if I agree with the free sharing of music, and my answer has always been “sure, so long as the permissions have been granted by the copyright holder(s). And, if you don’t mind paying the fines or having a criminal record? Sure, why not.

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