A federal judge yesterday found Usenet.com liable for just about every copyright infringement claim on the books: direct infringement, inducement of infringement, contributory infringement, and (just for good measure) vicarious infringement. Not content to be loud and proud about its pro-pirate agenda, Usenet.com also resorted to stonewalling legal questionnaires, sending employees to Europe to avoid depositions, wiping hard drives, and failing to turn over e-mail after being sued in 2007 by the music labels.
The recording industry’s high-octane litigation campaign has on many occasions suffered from “poor targeting,” but it’s hard to see any complexities in this case. When Usenet.com employees privately suggested that the service’s tag line should be “piracy, porno, and pictures —Usenet,” “Usenet is full of music and movies so get your pirate on!,” or “Bless the Usenet and all that it steals!,” it’s clear they knew why people were paying $4.95 to $18.95 a month for the privilege of accessing the newsgroups. And not only did they know, they allegedly took steps to encourage the infringement.
Napster understood the internet’s potential for decentralised music distribution, and offered it to consumers in a way that was simple to understand and use.
Many critics have argued that the music industry could have avoided some of the problems it faces today if we had embraced Napster rather than fighting it.
That’s probably true, and I, for one, regret that we weren’t faster in figuring out how to create a sustainable model for music on the internet.
But this view also overlooks the formidable hurdles we faced in 1999.
See also Music industry ‘missed’ Napster