Music Copyright in the Digital Age

       A legal, economic, and cultural analysis of music piracy and its implications

Combatting Music Piracy

Part of reason music piracy has become a widespread social norm is that prosecuting it to enforce copyright has proven incredibly difficult. The music industry's legal victory against Napster only opened the floodgates for more decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing networks--for example FastTrack (used by Kazaa and Grokster), Gnutella (used by LimeWire), and BitTorrent--to take its place.

It is harder for prosecutors to target these decentralized file sharing networks because files are not stored on any one central server and they can also be used to share legitimate files. Prosecutors are beginning to target individual users instead, but they can't get personal information about users without subpoenaing the user's Internet service provider (ISP) first. ISPs are reluctant to give out their customer's details because doing so hurts their business.

Prosecuting copyright infringement is further complicated by poor legislation and varying interpretations in different countries. For example, in the UK it is illegal to copy music from a CD that you own onto your computer or MP3 player.[1] Other countries are seen as safe havens for BitTorrent tracker sites because of their lax enforcement.

The world's largest BitTorrent index, The Pirate Bay, is Swedish. Despite guilty verdicts for four of The Pirate Bay's administrators, the legal attention has only raised the BitTorrent tracker's popularity and support, and it remains online to this day. The abundance of alternative BitTorrent trackers and other smaller filesharing services (such as RapidShare, Mega File Upload, and 4shared) ensure that prosecuting music copyright infringement will barely put a dent in piracy.

International Agreements

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) drafted at G8 would allow the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and South Korea to police copyright through an international trade agency that could seize computers suspected of containing pirated data and force ISPs to divulge their customers' personal information without a warrant. Although a ACTA fact sheet emphasizes that the ACTA is "not about limiting civil liberties or harassing consumers,"[2] the drafted agreement has incited controversy because it transcends all national legislative and judicial checks on invasive power.[3]


  1. "UK 'has the worst copyright laws'" BBC News 15 Apr. 2009.
  2. "The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement." European Commission, Trade. Nov. 2008.
  3. Ingram, Mathew. "Do we need copyright cops?" Ingram 2.0. The Globe and Mail 28 May 2008.