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ISP-Planet: Has the RIAA Made the Internet Illegal?

Jul 30, 2000, 16:24 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Patricia Fusco)

By Patricia Fusco, ISP-Planet

The implications of Judge Patel's Napster ruling may be far wider than you realize. Is file sharing illegal? Are links subject to lawuits? Or will this ruling do to music software developers what the legislature did to encryption software developers — drive them outside the United States?

Quick! Get your programmers to work adjusting your Web sites. You must forbid "E-mail This Story to a Friend" file sharing features on your Web sites or face the wrath of publishers trying to protect copyrighted material.

After all, Web publishers own the legal rights to the stories? Surely the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material must end. Journalists are starving while readers on the Net pirate their words!

Sound silly?

Starving megastars
U.S. District Chief Judge Marylin Hall Patel doesn't think so. Judge Patel used the same line of thought Wednesday when she determined that Napster is in clear violation of copyright infringement laws.

Judge Patel said that Napster designed a system that enables piracy. She also dismissed Napster's argument that it was protected under the Audio Home Recording Act, a 1992 ruling, which essentially says that simply because a recording has been made does not mean copyright infringement has taken place.

In doing so, Judge Patel said "that ruling was in regards to a recording device. Napster is not a device, it is an Internet technology."

So let's see, a technology that points to a server's stored copyrighted material is piracy. Does this mean Yahoo!, a technology-based directory that points to Web destinations that may contain copyrighted material violates the law?

Ignoring the fact that all Web content is served to a viewer as a form of file sharing, The U.S. District Court ordered that Napster close its music-swapping portal by midnight Friday.

Could one court kill file sharing and peer-to-peer communication over the Web? Apparently so, with the injunction in place at the request of the Recording Industry Association of America, it's apparent that Friday, July 28, 2000 officially that day that the music will die.

Artists against technology
Artists Against Piracy
, an artist-driven coalition formed to give recording artists a voice in determining how their music is distributed on the Internet, said a company should not be able to co-opt other peoples' copyrights.

Noah Stone, AAP director, said as an industry, we must find a way to give music fans what they want, which is fast and easy music on the Internet.

"While Napster, the technology, is very compelling, Napster the business, has shown no respect for the artists who create the music everyone wants to hear, download, trade and profit from," Stone said.

But don't count Napster out. Napster users are uniting to urge that users send the RIAA a message and it should not shut down the music sharing services. Web destinations like Geek Extreme are mad as hell, but angry e-mails won't save Napster now.

Hank Barry, Napster chief executive, said that the injunction would indeed have the effect of shutting the company down.

Napster forced the music industry to try and get its Net act together, much like Beta tape technology parented the video recording industry. It was a painful birth surrounded by controversy, which could not go mainstream until the motion picture industry awoke from its 60mm coma to embrace the new video distribution method.

Napster shook the recording industry from its money-hungry stupor in an attempt to do the same thing videotape did for film: Wake up and smell the profits.

Analysts anticipate that the RIAA or a consortium of major recording labels may step in to rescue Napster with some type of last minute settlement that puts the file-sharing technology firm in the hands of recording industry.

Rather than suing Napster, the major labels should buy it. Doing so would save development time down the road. But if history and the volume of e-mail rants are relevant indicators, this is an industry that would rather fight than move forward.

It's likely sometime in the near future that Napster will cease to exist, permanently. The company has nearly no revenue and a large percentage of its funding is being diverted fuel its legal defense. The recording industry that wants it dead and company will run out of money in short order. The labels have nothing to fear from Napster the company.

When Napster goes out of business, the technology will remain. Napster simplified music distribution. While Napster may be on the ropes, the open-source Gnutella project will live. Since the program does not maintain a server-based database like Napster, there's no one to sue.

If the RIAA wants to stop Gnutella, it's going to have to prosecute music lovers on the Web. Hardly a victory for recording artists if the music industry has to bite the hand that feeds it.

Or flee offshore
And there are more every day. A list of MP3 services on Jumbo! includes EBT's MediaGrab, RiffShare, radio spy, CuteMX.com, iMesh, and RioPort.

Perhaps this ruling will do what the legislature did to encryption software developers: court rulings will only drive the industry outside the United States.

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