The Napster case is the current cause celebre of the digital age. The story has color. It involves music-sharing technology invented by an eighteen-year-old college dropout whose high school classmates nicknamed him "The Napster" on account of his perpetually kinky hair. The story has drama. Depending on your perspective, it pits rapacious big music companies against poor and hardworking students who just want to enjoy some tunes; or it pits creative and industrious music companies seeking a fair return on their invested effort, time, and money against greedy and irreverent music thieves. And the case has importance. Music maybe intellectual property's "canary in the digital coal mine" because the copyright infringement issues now confronting the music industry have important implications for other producers of digital information products including books and movies.
This article does not discuss the Napster case in depth. Instead, the author briefly places Napster within the broad sweep of copyright law as it has applied to music over the last 170 years. Copyright always has been "technology's child." The Napster case, while the latest big thing of the digital age, is just one of many judicial and legislative adaptations of music-related copyright law to technological innovation.