Censorship: Music

Are record companies effective in prosecuting individual file sharers?


Does the material depict or describe specific sexual or excretory activities or organs in a “patently offensive manner”?
Would the average person, applying “contemporary community standards, “find that the material, takes as a whole, appeals predominantly to a “prurient” interest in sexual or excretory matter?
Does the material take a whole, lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?

Napster - former file sharing network
Napster - former file sharing network

File Sharing

Unauthorized copies of a creative work takes something of value from its original owner without permission – ie. Stealing. Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized reproduction, distribution, rental, or downloading of copyrighted music. US copyright law fully protects music in physical or digital form. Court rulings have ruled against the legality of uploading and downloading copyrighting material without permission. Song writers, producers, and artists live of off money gained through legal purchase of the music


  • KaZaA and Grokster: first file sharing sites to be known
  • ITunes: way to purchase music off the web legally with the artists benefitting as well
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P): using copyrighted materials by sharing with other users without getting a monetary gain

Napster v. the Court ruled that copyrighted material cannot be downloaded through peer to peer file sharing. Napster then turned into an online music store.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – allows the copyright owner of force Internet Service Providers to remove unauthorized material from their servers

RIAA vs. Verizon Internet ruled the DMCA does not apply and the music industry cannot take advantage of the easy subpoena process to go after song swappers

John Doe lawsuits: filing charges against people who are using specific Internet addresses and then finding out about the person as the trial goes along; however, there is no need of the court to go after song swappers

Decoying: music industries uploading thousands of fake files to make it harder to find the pirated files, completely legal form of copyright protection


Is ripping music from CDs illegal?
RIAA says “It’s OK to copy music onto an analog cassette (not for commercial purposes), it’s OK to copy music onto special audio CD-Rs, minidisks and digital tapes (but again not for commercial purposes). Beyond that there’s no legal “right” to copy the copyrighted music on a CD onto a CD-R, but burning a copy onto a CD-R or transferring a copy onto a computer hard drive or portable music player won’t usually raise concerns so long as the copy is made from an authorized original CD that you legitimately own and the copy is just for your personal use...” but does not clarify whether or not copies placed in a different, personal, private unshared folder are also unauthorized.





First Amendment Rights
The first amendment is in place to keep the government from controlling the media. Amendment law does not apply to community and religious groups. Because record companies are not federally owned, their censorship is legal and constitutional. The censorship of music only violates our constitutional rights when the government, its laws, or its agencies conduct the restraint themselves. Therefore, when we speak of music censorship, we are usually referring to community or corporate attempts to regulate the society according to what they deem appropriate based on their standards and beliefs.
In 1990, The Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC) and a series of Senate hearings pressured the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to introduce a uniform labeling system using the logo, "Parental Advisory- Explicit Lyrics." However, the RIAA did not give any standards, criteria or guidelines for determining which albums should be labeled. Many organizations have been dissatisfied with the RIAA's labels and have demanded more limits on the sale of music containing controversial lyrics. Because of this, legislators have introduced bills in more than 20 states that would require far more detailed warning labels, and some that even go as far as to ban the sale of music to minors that is deemed to be objectionable.
Members of Congress have held hearings and made suggestions as to how they could censor the music industry. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required the Federal Communications Commission to issue guidelines for the labeling of sexual, violent or mature materials unless the entertainment industry agreed to a system of self-imposed labeling. This is where we got our labeling laws.
In 1997, the Louisiana house bill 1236 was introduced to prevent the sale of music containing lyrics considered harmful to minors. "Harmful" was defined as being any "record, album, cassette, CD, tape, recording, etc. that advocates rape, prostitution, homicide, unlawful ritual acts, suicide, the commission of crimes because of the victim's race, gender, color, religion, or national origin, the use of controlled dangerous substances, or the unlawful use of alcohol". Any music that fell under those categories was required to have a label stating the material's objectionable content.

Court Cases
Miller vs. California - 1973
Gave local government control over music they found to be obscene
Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios Inc. – 1984

Sellers of VCRs not liable for copyright infringement
Grand Upright v. Warner – 1991
Sampling without permission from the original copyright holders is copyright infringement
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. – 2005
MGM sues Grokster for illegal file sharing or peer-to-peer networking
Capitol vs. Foster – 2006
Innocent defendant Debbie Foster wins against record companies suing her for illegally downloading copyrighted material