US music industry sues over ‘virtual CD player’

Service lets you play your CDs on any PC -- provided has a copy, of course...

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has launched its latest legal action against a company supporting the controversial MP3 digital music format. Last time, the target was Diamond Multimedia (now part of 3D graphics specialist S3) over its MP3-based Rio portable music player. On Friday, the RIAA launched a copyright infringement suit against music e-commerce site The RIAA lost its case against Diamond. The RIAA's complaint centres on's new site, launched 12 January. apparently allows users to upload their CDs to's servers and then listen to them from any PC via what are effectively downloaded MP3 files. MP3's compression level is such that the format's quality is nowhere near that of a CD, so the trade-off punters have to make is clearly sound fidelity for easy of access to their record collections. In fact, doesn't actually involve uploading anything. It simply checks to see whether has a copy of the same album that the user is trying to 'upload'. If's rapidly expanding library of CDs doesn't contain the user's favourite album, the 'upload' process fails. The RIAA maintains that's scheme to hold a vast library of CDs and make tracks available to users free of charge is a blatant violation of the US copyright law. It also claims has built up a library of over 40,000 CDs illegally. "The foundation on which these services are built is an unauthorized digital archive with the most popular and valuable copyrighted sound recordings in the world -- music that is not owned by," said the RIAA.'s argument is that it doesn't need to own them since the user does. Because each user has to already own a copy of the CD, providing compressed data to that same user from another copy of that CD isn't a copyright infringement since this is something the user could do on their own anyway legally through fair use statutes. is pretty riled with the RIAA, having made its technology available to the organisation's inspectors in an attempt to show that isn't operating contrary to copyright protection legislation, and, on the contrary, works to prevent "piracy, counterfeiting and unauthorised use", according to CEO Michael Robertson. The company portrays the RIAA's suit as the protectionist action of a monopolist business, and its hard not to come to a similar conclusion. That said, even if's service is legal, since it's primarily a means to market's own artists' albums, the company is to a degree open to the charge of profiting commercially from the site. Equally, it's hard to envisage such a system that's can offer rock tight security, and won't be hacked to allow CDs to be copied illegally. For sure, users can copy disks for anyone easily enough as it is, but insecurities in the system will weaken its defence against the RIAA. ®

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