The ability to transmit music has grown in leaps and bounds over the last thirty years. Music has been recorded onto records, 8-tracks, cassette tapes and compact discs (CDs). As new technology came out, music fans discovered new and cheaper ways to share music with their friends. From trading cassette tapes, known as "bootlegs", to now trading rewritable compact discs, copyright laws have been broken repeatedly for years. The recording industry doesn't mind the trading of "bootlegs", either on a blank cassette or rewritable compact disc, because the recording industry receives money from the sale of those items. What scares the music industry to it's collective core is file-sharing software that easily allows the trading of compressed music files, known as MP3s, across the Internet. While the recording industry makes a profit off of the sale of blank cassettes and rewritable compact discs there is no money being made off of the trading of MP3s and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) wants that to change, immediately.

Specifically the RIAA is suing the organization known as Napster. The RIAA is suing Napster because the RIAA claims that "Napster launched a service that enables and facilitates piracy of music on an unprecedented scale." Napster was created to offer an integrated browser and communications system that allows users who log onto the server to obtain digitally transcribed MP3 music files which can be kept on the computers of other users who are connected to the Napster system at the same time. Napster, which allows its users the chance to search from approximately 500,000 music files at any given time, does not, and according to Napster Inc. cannot, control what content is available to users of the Napster browser. What Napster has done is build a system that allows users who log onto Napster's servers to obtain MP3 music files that are stored on the computers of other users who are connected to the Napster system at the same time.

The claim Napster makes is that its users are responsible for complying with all applicable federal and state laws, including copyright laws, and it claims no liability for their service. What the RIAA claims in its lawsuit versus Napster is that Napster enables and encourages the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted music. The heart of the lawsuit, and debate over Napster, is what is intellectual property and how should it be defined in the digital age?