Recent technological advances have allowed consumers to reinvent the mixtape. Instead of being confined to two sides of an audiocassette, people can now create playlists that stretch for hours and days on their computers, tablets, mobile devices, and MP3 players. This, in turn, has affected how people consume and listen to music, both in isolation and in groups.
As individuals and business owners in the United States use devices to store, organize, and listen to music, they inevitably run up against the boundaries of U.S. copyright law. In general, these laws affect businesses more often than private individuals, who can listen to the latest hit single on their iPod or play music to a large audience in their home without running afoul of copyright law, presuming that the audience is composed of family members and social acquaintances. In contrast, as soon as a business plays music in a public space where strangers might listen, it risks infringing the public performance right granted to rightsholders by copyright law.
This Essay examines how business practices attributable to the rise of digital music conflict with the public performance right that the Copyright Act grants to creators.