Do We Shoot the Messenger?
What To Do With Technologies That Indirectly Encourage Copyright Infringement

It is beyond question that copyright infringement is illegal. However, the dawn of cyberspace has yielded a whole host of technologies that, by making copyright infringment easier, arguably encourage copyright infringement. Should technologies that encourage copyright infringement be deemed illegal as well?

As an example, consider the MPEG Layer 3 file format. MP3 music files take up less than one tenth of the storage space required by WAV files containing the same music. This small file size, in conjunction with the Internet's meteoric rise in popularity, has inspired many music fans to "rip" their favorite songs from CDs into MP3 files and upload them onto the Internet. The result is illegal copies of the "ripped" songs can and are being made by people all over the world. Although the MP3 format may have legitimate uses, its primary use appears to be the illegal distribution of copyrighted music over the Internet. Should the MP3 file format be banned because of this? Should Internet users be forced to use alternative, supposedly piracy-proof audio formats such as Liquid Audio? Our project researches and addresses these issues.

Another technology of dubious legality is software emulation, which enables users of one platform to run another platform's software. Emulators are similar to MP3s in that copyrighted ROM files for the emulated platform are commonly (and illegally) passed around via the Internet. Should emulators be deemed illegal because they indirectly encourage software piracy? This does not seem fair, since most of the authors of emulators have publicly and forcefully condemned the use of their products for piracy. Should emulators be banned because they dilute the trademark of the platform being emulated? This seems like a side effect with only minor economic repercussions, since most emulators are free and are written purely for the challenge of writing such a program -- not to commit trademark theft.

These examples illustrate the complex issues involving technologies that encourage copyright infringement. The questions embodied therein are at the essence of what our project seeks to resolve.

Legal Background

MPEG Layer 3   |   Emulation   |   Search Engines and Directories
Reverse Engineering   |   CD Burners


Ted LeVan   |   Huat Chye Lim   |   Marissa Mayer   |   Ann Rose Van

Computer Science 201 Final Project
Stanford University, March 1999