Internet File Swapping

MP3 players. These digital music gadgets are all the rage among audiophiles.

"They're selling very well," Mike Dash of Circuit City told us. "We sold a lot of them over Christmastime, a lot of people come in at Christmastime to purchase them as gifts, so they're doing very well with sales."

They enable you to store and play many songs in a compact, solid-state device. It's a little device that can hold hours of compressed music, and it's smaller than the circumference of a CD.

"Where do they get the music? You can essentially download it off the internet," said Dash. "There's several sites you can go to, some legal, some not so legal, but there are several sites you can go to to do so."

Just how legal these sites are is up to the courts, which have already shut down the highest-profile file-swapping service, Napster. But there is still a variety of internet file swappers out there, like Kazaa, Morpheus, and Grokster, enabling users to give and take songs, and even movies, from each other's collections. This can violate copyright law.

"Copyrighted work is something that a user really can't trade in without the permission of the copyright holder," attorney David Michael Conner of Bouhan, Williams, and Levy in Savannah told us. Conner has been involved in intellectual property litigation, and he tells us it's the producers of the file-swapping software, rather than the file swappers themselves, who should look out.

"The practical effect of this phenomenon, this file-swapping phenomenon, is that the music industry and the movie industry can't effectively police it," he said. "They would literally have to sue millions of people to stop them from file swapping, and obviously that isn't economically viable and economically feasible. Every provider of a swapping service has been taken to court, and there are a couple of very important cases that are now pending out in California and LA."

The bottom line is that music and movie companies are going after the software providers who make file swapping possible, and the outcome of those cases could change the face of internet commerce as a whole.

There are pay services for music swapping out there like Pressplay, whose legality is not in dispute. Furthermore, Conner was gracious enough to write this detailed document on the history and legal issues of file swapping, for more information.

Reported by: Charles Gray,