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Court finds MP3.com guilty of copyright violation

Better not let friends use your stereo, just to be safe

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US District Judge Jed Rakoff for the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary judgment holding MP3.com liable for copyright violation in response to a suit brought by big-gun industry crusaders of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). His Honour said he would fully explain his rather puzzling verdict within two weeks' time (the period it takes for a cheque to clear, we can't help recalling). Meanwhile, he and lawyers representing both sides will meet to discuss how the ruling should affect MP3.com's daily operations. The RIAA suit claimed that MP3.com maintains an illegal database of music which the company bought and uploaded to its servers. The suit had sought to shut down the service and to penalise MP3.com $150,000 per song streamed, but thus far no particular remedy has been ordered. The MP3.com service requires users to purchase music before they can access it on line, though what they do with it after that is anyone's guess. RIAA lawyers apparently imagine that they are all re-distributing it, as the $150,000 per-song penalty request is tantamount to calling every man, woman and child who ever downloaded an MP3 file a boot-legging criminal bastard. It is legal in the US to make copies of purchased music albums in one format for personal use on other types of players. It is also legal for the owner of one music album (or book, or whatever) to trade it for another or give it away informally. This is what MP3.com and Napster make possible via the Net, though the industry hates it and would have us all clapped in irons if it could. The judge has apparently concluded that the Internet is so mysterious and terrifying that public safety demands it be illegal for any person to listen to a piece of music he hasn't paid for, or copy it from a three-dimensional format to one which can be exchanged electronically. We see this as a slippery slope: taken a few short steps further, this brilliant piece of American legislation might make it illegal to lend a CD, an audio cassette, a book or even a newspaper to a friend. Taken to an extreme, it would mean that you and your flatmate had better both have paid for the CD you're listening to together on the communal stereo. And take care you don't read over someone's shoulder on the Tube; it might land you in the slam.... The Register looks toward the inevitable appeals process for some clear, rational thinking and sane judgment in this matter. ®

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