In this lesson, students will examine the state of Internet file sharing and copyright law. Building on the homework exercise from Lesson 2, students will decipher the various players who have a vested interest in the heated peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing debate: technological innovators, the entertainment industry, lawyers, courts, educators, and, of course, the file-sharers.
The use of peer-to-peer networks to share music and movies has sparked tremendous controversy in recent years. The recording industry blames P2P file sharing for declining music sales and has responded with extensive advertising, lobbying campaigns, lawsuits against file-sharing companies, and, until recently, lawsuits against individual users of P2P software. After years of negotiation, authorized downloading sites have also emerged, such as iTunes. However, unauthorized file-sharing remains extremely popular. For example, one study found that one third of PCs in the world have Limewire (a popular file-sharing technology that has been targeted in lawsuits) installed. Users of P2P networks argue that the world has changed, that they should be able to use and share music without restriction, and that the recording industry needs to adapt its business models to new technologies. They point to the efforts of some musicians to use the Internet and P2P technologies to reach out to fans and market their works. (See, for example, the "pay what you want" model used by Radiohead for its recent album In Rainbows, or Nine Inch Nails' liberal licensing of its collection Ghosts I-IV.)
Given the heated debate, it is easy to forget that peer-to-peer technology itself is not illegal, nor is using the technology to make fair uses, to share copyrighted materials designated for sharing, or to share materials in the public domain. It is also easy to forget that we have been here before. As we learned in Lesson 3, new copying technologies often spark legal and political controversy as industries based on old technologies struggle to adapt. For example, movie industry representatives famously claimed that videocassette recorders would destroy that industry (former MPAA president Jack Valenti likened VCRs to serial killer "Jack the Ripper"), but in fact VCRs and DVDs opened up new business opportunities and brought new wealth to the industry.
A clearer understanding of the peer-to-peer debate will not only enable students to make informed decisions about their use of peer-to-peer software, but it will also give them a framework for understanding how emerging technology affects commerce, society, and culture – and how individuals can be impacted by the changes.
The main class exercise requires students to explore the viewpoints of the individuals involved in a true-to-life file sharing controversy.
The students should also be given a significant amount of time to work on the fair use mock trial conducted in Lesson 5. Keep the Trial Guide close at hand to help the students navigate their responsibilities. Be prepared to give the student groups extensive feedback on the Stakeholders Worksheets completed as homework for Lesson 2. Comprehensive feedback should help them make efficient use of class time to refine arguments in preparation for the mock trial.
A 12-year-old girl in Toledo, Ohio, receives an email from her Internet provider regarding a subpoena. She doesn't understand it, so she ignores it. One year later, her family is formally served with a lawsuit naming her mom as a defendant. The suit alleges that the mother, who was the ISP account holder, illegally downloaded 10 copyrighted music files from a file-sharing network and seeks damages for each song. The plaintiff record companies offer to settle for $6,000.
Students will finish their final trial arguments and questions and prepare for the mock fair use trial of Walt Disney Studios v. Faden ("A Fair(y) Use Tale").
Invite a local artist, writer, or musician to speak to your class on how the Internet and technology has impacted his or her artistic work. Also ask students in your class (or students in the school generally) who are artists/creators in their own right to comment on these questions: