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Empeg seeks to avoid the legal entanglements binding Diamond's Rio

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Even as Diamond Multimedia was winning judicial permission to sell its Rio handheld MPEG music player in the US, a UK firm was announcing a device of its own, aimed at in-car use. However, while Diamond's reprieve may yet be overturned -- it's only a temporary judgement -- Somerset-based Empeg believes its machine is safe from prosecution. Diamond's legal grief arose because the Recording Industry Associaton of America claims it promotes music piracy. Rio plays music encoded in the MPEG-based MP3 format and downloaded from the Internet. Currently, there are vast numbers of MP3 files available on the Net, almost all of them illegal copies of copyright material. The case against Rio hinges on whether it can be classified as a computer or not. If it can, it can legitimately be used to record, edit and play digital music files. However, if it's classified as a consumer music device, as the RIAA is arguing, it counts under the US' 1992 Audio Home Recording Act. In that case, the RIAA attempt to have its sale blocked until Diamond sets up a method of ensuring royalty payments are made to artusts -- in practice, that means a one-off levy on each machine shipped -- and modifies it to prevent the mass duplication of music files. Empeg has attempted to skirt the issue by essentially devising its Empeg MP3 Player as a computer dedicated to playing back music. The standalone machine is based on a StrongARM processor and runs Linux. It also contains 8MB of RAM, a 2.1GB hard disk which can hold up to 35 hours of music, and a docking system to allow it to be connected to a PC. The device will ship with software that runs on a host PC and converts and copies music CD audio tracks to the Player. Empeg claims the Player will not permit tracks to copied back to the PC or to other devices. However, an attorney with the US Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, quoted on TechWeb, said that the Empeg Player, if sold in the US, would count under the 1992 Act, and thus be liable to the royalty levy. No wonder, then, that Empeg has its hopes set on a Diamond victory. Empeg plans to charge £699 for the player, which makes it rather more expensive than most in-car systems and so targetted more toward the audiophile market than the mainstream. In essence, hi-fi buffs will be able to replace CD multi-changers installed in the boot. ® Click for more stories

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