RIAA v MP3.com/Napster: recent developments

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has secured two key rulings in its ongoing battle against unauthorised on-line use of its members’ recordings.

1. MP3.COM

On 28 April Judge Rakoff granted partial summary judgment against MP3.com Inc. in relation to its use of RIAA members’ recordings.  The dispute related to MP3.com’s “My MP3.com” service, which allows users to listen to their CD collection on-line anywhere they have internet access.

The service works by inviting users to upload their CD collection to an MP3.com server.  However, MP3.com purchased several thousand CDs and copied them on to its server.  If the uploading software detects a CD in the user’s drive which is already on the server, the user is informed that there is no need for that CD to be uploaded in order to listen to it.

The RIAA sued MP3.com for copyright infringement in relation to the unauthorised copying of its members’ CDs.  MP3.com argued that it was merely storing its subscribers’ CDs (for which they had already paid) and allowing them to listen to these CDs at their convenience, and that this was “fair use” of the copyright material.

In a decision issued this week, the judge rejected the fair use defence stating that MP3.com’s argument amounts to “nothing more than a bald claim that [MP3.com] should be able to misappropriate the [RIAA members’] property simply because there is a consumer demand for it.”

MP3.com had previously started proceedings against the RIAA claiming that it had illegally interfered with MP.com’s business.  These proceedings have now been discontinued.


The RIAA is also suing Napster, a company whose software allows users to share MP3 files of RIAA members’ recordings stored on their own hard disks on-line. A federal judge last week ordered that the trial for copyright infringement should go ahead.

Napster had applied for the claim against it to be dismissed, arguing that even if its users were infringing copyright, Napster was a “mere conduit” and not directly responsible for copyright infringements on its network.

Napster sought protection in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which provides that ISPs who respond appropriately to complaints of infringement on their systems cannot be ordered to pay damages.  The judge ruled that Napster’s service is unlike an ISP’s because it connects users through the internet rather than connecting users to the internet.

In a recent development, Napster has blocked access to some of its 335,000 users identified by the band Metallica, as having illegal copies of its songs available on the Internet.

Whilst the Napster case is still at a preliminary stage, it appears that the US courts are applying traditional copyright principles to disputes involving new technologies and to this extent the recording industry may feel that the internet is a less hazardous environment in which it can operate.


MP3.com strikes back

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