The freewheeling nature of the Internet, combined with compressed digital audio formats and peer-to-peer software that allow sharing of files between millions of users (MP3 and Kazaa, for example), has led to an epidemic of copyright infringement on an unprecedented scale.
As we mentioned in Chapter 5, when Napster was at its peak in early 2001, more than 2 billion songs were downloaded through it each month, and as of early 2004, more than 400 million copies of the two most popular P2P programs had been downloaded.
With the recording industry’s early focus on major infringers—web sites that offered unauthorized downloads, and companies such as Napster who distributed software that made copyright infringement easy for millions of people—copyright laws were probably not high on the radar screens of most people who shared unauthorized copies of music.
This all changed in September 2003, when the RIAA began suing individuals who shared music on the FastTrack P2P network used by Kazaa. Users who thought they were anonymous were now faced with penalties of up to $250,000 per pirated song.
Many people jumped when the RIAA offered them the opportunity to settle for a few thousand dollars. Even people whose Internet accounts had been used by someone else for file sharing found it was cheaper and easier to settle than to defend the case in court.
As a result of the publicity surrounding lawsuits by the RIAA and some well-known copyright owners such ...