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Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 81

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MP3.com, Recording Industry Association of America set to do battle

Cougar Entertainment Services

Online CD shoppers might get better deals than store-shopping counterparts, but there's one thing they don't get: instant gratification.

Conveniently, MP3.com has a solution.

The site specializing in digital downloads now offers a special program wherein users can listen to any CD from any computer, provided they own the CD and have registered (for free) with MP3.com.

For instance, if one orders D'Angelo's Voodoo from one of MP3.com's e-commerce partners, or you already own the disc and place it in your CD-ROM drive (MP3.com has software that can read the CD and notify the site), you can listen to it on your computer from Lebanon or Houston via the Internet. The website has compiled a database of thousands of titles for download.

But the music industry is none too pleased. The Recording Industry Association of America, which has seriously cracked down on Internet piracy in recent years, has sued MP3.com, claiming the site's online CD storage services violate U.S. copyright law.

The RIAA says MP3.com doesn't own the music it offers for download, so the site can't offer such services.

Filed in Federal District Court in New York, the lawsuit says MP3.com created an unauthorized digital music catalog of up to 45,000 CDs.

In a letter to MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson, the RIAA says the website's "violation of the copyright law is brazen on its face."

"Simply put, it is not legal to compile a vast database of our members' sound recordings with no permission and no license," RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen said in the letter. "Obviously, you are not free to take protected works simply because you want them."

MP3.com claims it is using security technology to make sure that the computer user owns a physical copy of the CD, but the RIAA doesn't think that's good enough.

"Whatever the individual rights to use their own music, you cannot exploit that for your company's commercial gain."

Experts are divided on the lawsuit's merit.

"There is a long line of cases that say you can use your own copy machine at home to make a copy of a book you own," Bob Kohn, a licensing expert and chairman of EMusic.com, an MP3.com competitor, tells CNET. "But you can't take the book to Kinko's and do the same thing, or Kinko's will get sued and it knows that."

But Mark Lemley, a professor specializing in Internet Law at University of California at Berkeley, disagrees, saying in the New York Times that the MP3.com service is like making a copy of a recording for personal use -- and that's okay under federal law.

"What's really going on," he says, "is a broader conflict between traditional means of media and digital means."
 

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