The first illegal download site was Napster developed in 1999 by Shawn Fanning. The idea was to create a program that could combine three key functions: search engine, file sharing, and Internet relay chat (Tyson, 2015). The first function would allow users to find MP3 files, while file sharing functionality would allow them to trade files directly without having to rely on a centralized server. The Internet relay chat would enable users to chat online. Initially, Napster was a way of copying copyrighted material. With the help of Napster, thousands of online users were making millions of copies of copyrighted content without giving any dues to the artists or music industry. Napster held that these files were personal given the fact that they were stored on users’ personal machines, which waved any claim on the company. Despite the fact that Napster had been banned in over forty percent of colleges and universities in the US, college students continued to use the program to download and share MP3 files (Tyson, 2015). In addition to this, the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act allowed users to make copies of music files and to share these files with their friends as long as they were not selling them. This made users believe that they were not performing any illegal activity by sharing music files. In 2001, a legal action against Napster was instituted by a number of companies, which accused it for copyright infringement. The plaintiffs accused the company of vicarious and contributory infringement and sought for a preliminary injunction to stop file sharing. The injunction was granted leading Napster to make an appeal at court. A stay was granted by the latter court pending resolution.
In the wake of Napster, a number of online companies emerged including but not limited to Megaupload Ltd. The Hong Kong based company was founded in 2005, but was later closed by the Department of Justice in 2012 for copyright infringement. The company was re-launched in 2013 under the name of Mega. Megaupload has been banned in a number of countries for various reasons including copyright infringement and distribution of pornographic materials. Another online company that faced criticism for copyright issues is Pirate bay, a company which was founded in 2009 (Larsso & Goldberg, 2013). Despite the fact that the company has been blocked in a number of countries, users can still access it with the help of proxies and multiple round-robin serves. Pirate bay has been on and off moving its servers from Greenland, Iceland, St. Martin, Peru, and Guyana (Larsso & Goldberg, 2013). The company also changed its domain name for a number of times before it was closed.
While much content can be downloaded illegally even today, there are online companies which offer legal content (Fayettevile State University, 2015). Through options such as iTunes, Apple store, Google play, MP3.com, and Amazon.com, users can download content legally (Webster University, 2015). A user is charged a small fee to download content and can pay per content or through some form of subscription. Some artists also make their content available for free download. In this scenario, it is the copyright holder who allows users to make free distribution of their content (Urban Dictionary, 2015).
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However, they also control such distribution. Users are also required to stay within the realm of legal by abiding to usage restrictions. While these restrictions are usually minimal, they determine the legality of one’s action, and users must abide by them. To avoid illegal distribution of copyrighted materials, it is imperative for users to know the type of software they are using, since some software allows distribution even without the user’s knowledge.