Diamond countersues US music industry association

But proving a trade body's chartered actions equals an anititrust conspiracy will be tricky

Diamond Multimedia is suing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) over the latter's earlier attempt to sue Diamond. In the peripherals arena from which Diamond hails, suits against you, invariably citing patent infringement, are usually responded to with a countersuit of your own, and it looks like Diamond's action is almost a case of the company's lawyers operating on autopilot. Diamond's countersuit alleges the RIAA's original action was little more than an attempt by the music industry to prevent the commercial exploitation of an emerging market -- music encoded in the MPEG-based MP3 format and made available for download via the Net -- which it doesn't control. It wanted to restrict Diamond's ability to trade, and, in short, the action contravened Federal and Californian antitrust and business practice law. Oh, and the RIAA tarred Diamond with the same brush it used in the suit to point out the massive levels of piracy of copyright music that is taking place on the Net, almost all of it made real easy by MP3. That, says Diamond, has hurt our reputation. Indeed, Diamond's suit specifically denies all material allegations made against the company by the RIAA. Diamond's case hinges on statements made by RIAA officials that, it alleges, indicate their case against it was all part of a conspiracy on the part of the music industry. The trouble is, industry bodies are supposed to act on behalf of its members -- that's what they're there for. So it's going to be hard to separate conspiracy from an industry's genuine concern over music piracy. Diamond quotes a statement from RIAA president Hilary Rosen from the Wall Street Journal: "The only reason for the action against Diamond is that they are jumping the gun to exploit the pirate market instead of waiting and working toward the legitimate market." There are many Web sites that sell legitimate MP3 files on behalf of bands and independent labels, and Diamond will say that's who it's interested in working with. That said, it's impossible for its Rio PMP300 player, the machine at the heart of the RIAA suit, to distinguish between a legal MP3 file and a dodgy one. Diamond also points out it responded to the RIAA's concerns by adding a serial copy management system to the Rio to prevent it being used for mass-duplication of files. The RIAA continued with its suit, and that, says Diamond's lawyers, proves it had a more sinister agenda. That's a fair point, and perhaps the most valid argument Diamond's lawyers have. Of course, the downside to all this is that the RIAA's case was essentially chucked out, and it's not at all clear that Diamond's reputation has been damaged. Arguably, its has benfitted from the case because of the publicity the RIAA's suit gave to Diamond, Rio and the MP3 music scene. So the countersuit begins to seem more an act of petulance than a quest for justice. Rio has only been shipping for a couple of weeks, so it's way too early to say whether sales might have been affected by the RIAA's negative spin. Then again if it does experience poor sales, that may simply be down to the fact that Rio costs three times as much as a personal CD player and ten times the price of a Walkman... ®

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