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MP3.com vs RIAA judge explains his verdict

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US District Judge Jed Rakoff has explained his curious ruling in the MP3.com vs the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) case sooner than at first expected. Last week, Rakoff ruled that MP3.com's MyMP3.com virtual CD player service does indeed contravene US copyright law. His reason, explained today: the MyMP3.com music database didn't contain tracks purchased by MP3.com but copied music tracks without permission. The point can be argued both ways. By copying a user's CD to allow that user - and, technically, only that user - to listed to the upload wherever and whenever he or she wishes, is MP3.com breaking the law? MP3.com said no, since its actions were simply an extension of freedoms already permitted by US 'fair use' doctrines: that a CD owner can do whatever he or she likes with the content of that CD provided the content is not made available to others. The judge disagreed. "In actuality, [the] defendant is replaying for the subscribers converted versions of the recordings it copied, without authorisation, from plaintiffs' copyrighted CDs," Rakoff wrote in his explanation. And MP3.com's case wasn't sufficiently water-tight to be protected by 'fair use'. Judge Rakoff's basis for the ruling centres on his belief that MyMP3.com doesn't bring anything new to the music. MP3.com did not add any "new aesthetics, new insights and understandings". Of course, it doesn't, and if MP3.com argued that it did, it was foolish to do so. A TV programme, for example, is the same whether you watch it on air or as a recording made while you were out. Like the VCR case, MyMP3.com is about convenience and nothing more. Why should the fact that the user owns the VCR and MP3.com owns the server make any difference? Provided MP3.com's security is up to par, frankly it shouldn't. MP3.com didn't have permission of the copyright holder? True, but it tacitly had the permission of the track holder - who can copy the track legally - to make that copy on his or her behalf. Perhaps if MP3.com had ensured that each user's uploads were separate from others' the Judge would have ruled differently, since each example becomes literally a transaction between user and MP3.com and no one else. In short, MP3.com's 'crime' is to optimise its storage so that, say, 200 owners of a given track do not need to upload between them 200 copies of it. As we noted when the Rakoff verdict was announced: The Register looks toward the inevitable appeals process for some clear, rational thinking and sane judgment in this matter. We still do.

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