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August 10, 2001
Keep the Government’s
Role Limited

To Protect Intellectual Property
and Freedom from Regulation!

By Jason 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 thwart copying.
     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 Internet.
     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 our rights.
        [Editor's Note: Jason Miller ( is an intern with the Acton Institute’s public policy department and a freshman at Michigan State University.]


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