Napster plays the Betamax card

Sony's 1980's win over video recorder piracy could be the best defence Napster has, but legal experts dispute the relevancy of the comparison
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Lawyers for the music sharing application Napster will employ the epic Sony Betamax video ruling of 1984 to defend the company from imminent closure.

In its 'Friends of The Court' submission, Napster will say that Sony won by arguing that even if a technology can be used for piracy, it should not be banned if it is also capable of "substantial non-illegal usage". Napster claims its service is used legally by millions of users every day.

A federal appeal court session will hear opening arguments in the case between the digital song swap service and the giants of the recording industry beginning October 2.

In the lawsuit companies including Sony, EMI and Universal allege that, by letting music fans swap MP3 files, Napster's activities have infringed copyright regulations. In July a district judge agreed the site was encouraging piracy and ordered that it block the transfer of all copyrighted music on its site. This order was later suspended.

Napster will argue that other areas of its business, such as its promotion of unknown and unsigned bands, make it a valid and legal technology.

Despite the cunning plan however, legal experts doubt the relevance of Sony's case, suggesting that Napster's legal activities might not match the court's definition of "substantial".

These experts also argue that if Sony had lost, a whole technology would have perished. The record industry argues that Napster isn't a technology, just an illegal business model. The industry has also claimed that is is not looking to close Napster, just prevent copyrighted material from being downloaded by its users.

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