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Music industry sues MP3 search engine developer

Engine host Lycos looks set to be taken to court too

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The music industry's anti-piracy organisation, the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI), is suing the company behind Lycos' MP3 Search service. Ironically, the service's Oslo, Norway-based developer, Fast, shares the same initials as the UK computer industry's answer to IFPI, the Federation Against Software Theft. Fast initially developed an FTP search engine for the Internet portal. Last year, Lycos and Fast used the same technology to provide a method of accessing the half a million or more MP3 music files out there on the Internet. IFPI claims that the vast majority of those files were not posted with the permission of the relevant copyright holders and therefore the technology is encouraging illegal duplication of copyright material. The organisation claimed Fast's software "infringes copyright on a mass scale by collecting direct links to thousands of pirate music files on the Internet". IFPI's Norwegian wing is the prime mover in the legal action, though the organisation is also considering suing Fast in the US and extending the suit to take in Lycos too. What effect that will have on USA Networks' proposed takeover of the portal company remains to be seen. Legal action would be particularly embarrassing for Canadian booze company Seagram, which not only owns a 46 per cent share in USA Networks, but own Universal, one of the world's so-called 'big five' music labels. IFPI said it was taking the action against Fast in support of "all those independent, new companies and artists who are looking to pioneer a legitimate on-line music market". Ironically (again), many of these companies are keen supporters of MP3 because it allows them to distribute music without recourse to the major labels, who, incidentally, are IFPI's biggest members. Stretching IFPI's credibility further was the backing of the legal action by AudioSoft, a company founded to make money selling music distribution software -- hardly a disinterested party. At the same time, it's a moot point whether Fast is responsible for the content its search system indexes. We would have thought IFPI would achieve more success using Fast's engine to find and prosecute those individuals who are committing piracy, rather than 'shooting the messenger' as it appears to be doing today. We would certainly be curious to hear what Norwegian law has to say about the matter. ®

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