RIAA Sues MP3.com Over Online Service
New York (Jan. 26)--The Recording Industry Association of America RIAA) filed a federal lawsuit in a New York court late last week against digital music provider MP3.com, accusing it of massive copyright infringement through its new MyMP3.com service.
 
The service, which allows users to maintain a password-protected account with MP3.com of electronic copies of their personal CD collection, involved the conversion of some 40,000 CDs to MP3 format by the website. When a user places a CD in his/her ROM drive, the MP3.com service recognizes the CD and transfers an MP3 copy of the disc's content to the user's account.
 
"MP3.com constructed that database without making the slightest attempt to obtain permission from the copyright owners to do so," remarked Cary Sherman, RIAA senior executive vice president and general counsel. "This is a blatant infringement of rights, upsetting not only to record labels, but also large numbers of artists, retailers and technology companies who have business agreements with copyright owners....Frankly, it's astonishing that a publicly-traded company would behave so recklessly."
 
Michael Robertson, MP3.com CEO, countered, "My.MP3.com provides more choices for consumers to do what they want with the music they already own. Our technology also empowers artists to communicate directly with their fan base. We believe My.MP3.com will stimulate CD sales and expand the music industry overall."
 
The RIAA's main beef is that its member companies gave no consent to MP3.com to duplicate some 45,000 CDs in question, and that MyMP3.com users are effectively accessing infringing reproductions of copyrighted sound works. The organization is seeking dizzying statutory damages of $150,000 per work infringed.
 
MyMP3.com is currently a free service, but MP3.com has stated its intent to make it into a subscription service that consumers would pay for.
 
RIAA president and CEO Hilary Rosen issued an open letter to Robertson that argued, "Whatever the individual's right to use their own music, you cannot exploit that for your company's commercial gain." The letter goes on to cite a quote of Robertson's from an industry report acknowledging that consumers liked MP3.com's service, but wanted more mainstream music on the site. "Obviously, you are not free to take protected works simply because you want them," Rosen states.
 
Robertson responded to Rosen with an open letter of his own, which poses the question of who owns the music after the consumer has bought a CD. "The RIAA's action tells all of these thousands of consumers that they are not entitled to take their music into the digital age," Robsertson's letter says. "Our service is nothing more than a virtual CD player. It is a new and innovative technology that lets people listen to their music. We have every intention of fighting your efforts to dictate the way people can use their music."
 
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