I don't think that programmers should be held legally responsible for the code they produce. Computer programs are closer to scientific discoveries or mathematical algorithms than, say, a gun or bomb. Are we going after Einstein for the theory of relativity? Newton and Leibniz for calculus?
That said, I think computer programmers and other professionals are ethically responsible for the code they create. See for example the site of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. I feel that it is imperative that people recognize the implications and impacts of their work.
As for Napster issue, it seems to me that the record companies are going after the same thing that's been going on for years and has been reluctantly accepted: copying and trading music one-on-one with friends. Napster is like an online meeting board for those who want to exchange files. The problem is that until Napster, they had no one to sue. Can you imagine the RIAA and Metallica suing every user who downloaded a copyrighted file?
-- James Sheldon
I applaud your efforts on keeping up with the technological and legal aspects of this interesting case and just wanted to add my two cents. The companies in trouble all seem to be the little players: Napster, Freenet, Yo!NK, etc. But what about all the big Web companies offering MP3 searches? Lycos, Infoseek, Altavista and others all have special MP3 search pages. Lycos even has front-page links to the latest music -- Eminem, Britney Spears, Metallica(!) and Limp Bizkit -- telling people this is free music! Maybe they should be helping out the little guys before the MPAA cracks down on them too.
-- Sean Wachob
So now the courts are saying that the developers are responsible for the actions of the end user? So how did these users connect to the Internet? We must hold some ISP responsible for letting their users use Napster to trade illegal versions of songs. Wait, wait, what operating system were they using? Microsoft? Let's hold them and their developers responsible for making an OS that someone could develop a Napster on.
Where does it all end? Do we shut down gun companies because their product is used sometimes to break the law? No. So, fine, make Napster remove the illegal songs but you cannot blame the developers and programmers for what the user does with their software. Napster and products like it are viable solutions to transfer legal MP3s and, in one way or another, should be allowed to do that. Developers should not have fear for their lives when developing the next revolutionary product.
-- Paul Grisillo