August 10, 2001
Keep the Government’s
Protect Intellectual Property
and Freedom from Regulation!
Miller, Intern Acton Institute
FRESNO STATE -- The Napster
debate can be difficult for those who believe in free markets. We
are presented with two conflicting issues of great importance to
the free market and the continued improvement of our country.
Intellectual property rights create
an incentive for innovation. Without this incentive, the march of
human progress would slow significantly. Therefore, classical liberals
support reasonable governmental measures to protect these rights.
At the same time, we oppose regulations
that tend to give the government excessive power and harm the free
market. The complexity of the Internet and evolving computer technology
have made it more difficult for these two ideas to be reconciled.
A lawsuit from the Recording Industry Association
of America forced Napster to prevent its users from sharing copyrighted
music over the Internet. O
ther companies have stepped up to claim Napster’s
market share. Aimster is already engulfed in its own legal battles
with the music industry and has just suffered a loss to AOL over
the use of the acronym "AIM."
Even the recording industry is not pretending
that its lawsuits can completely stop the black market trading of
music. Recording companies are developing improved technology to
At the same time, new file sharing devices
are being developed that will incorporate encryption and other methods
to disguise the process.
This free-market fight may be beneficial
to consumers because it is forcing both sides to become innovators
and has also moved them towards a possible reconciliation where
the recording industry will sell the material at a reduced rate
on the Internet.
Whatever role the government takes in this
scenario, it must be narrowly tailored and do only what it must
do to protect intellectual property.
The on-line file sharing and copyright
battle has caused the unfortunate collateral damage that is typical
when the government gets involved. Even the First Amendment does
not escape unscathed.
The Motion Picture Association of America
is suing 2600 Magazine for publishing the source code of programs
that can be used to copy a DVD. While free speech can become a target,
the greater problem may be the push for more governmental regulation.
The recording industry has tried to push
too far and pushed the government to attack the software that allows
for file sharing. Banning software misplaces
responsibility for the crime. It is similar to the attempts to ban
VCRs because they could be used to record protected television programs.
Such proposals overstepped the government’s
roll twenty years ago and they overstep the government’s roll today.
Similarly, file-sharing advocates have called for compulsory licensing
requirements to be placed on the recording industry.
Having the government reach out beyond
its constitutionally obligatory actions to promote either side is
wrong. While we might have differing opinions on whether Napster
should be shut down for copyright violations, we can all agree that
the government should not use this as an excuse for regulating the
The Internet does not have an inherent
right to be free from any governmental intervention or the general
laws that govern us all. However, like all aspects of the market,
the government should not tread any farther than it must to preserve
Note: Jason Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an intern with the Acton
Institute’s public policy department and a freshman at Michigan
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