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MP3.com seeks Copyright Office approval

Net-and-copyright investigation should recognise My.MP3.com-style services

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MP3.com yesterday called upon the US Copyright Office to take into account services like its own My.MP3.com in a proposed investigation into the digital music market.

The Copyright Office was recently asked by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to explore the implications of the Internet and e-commerce on existing copyright law.

Clearly, the RIAA's agenda is to obtain very specific advice on how the US legislature should act to ensure existing copyright models are maintained and protected in the online era.

For its part, MP3.com wants to ensure that the right of a music buyer to listen to songs they have bought, whether on a physical medium or by download, through other media is extended to incorporate new technology.

So while the Home Recordings Act of 1982 permits a CD buyer to, say, tape that disc for use in the car, MP3.com essentially wants the law changed specifically to include virtual CD collection services like My.MP3.com as a permitted fair use.

MP3.com also wants the Copyright Office to create a royalty payments arbitration panel to "to determine the appropriate level of royalty fees, if any, payable by Internet music services when they deliver on-line performances of recorded music". Again, that would provide the company with an opportunity to limit what it has to pay record companies for the right to allow listeners to hear tracks they have already paid for.

As MP3.com's VP for government affairs, Billy Pitts, put it, the law should "recognise the distinction [between customers who have already bought the music on CD] and say that no royalty payment was involved".

Essentially, then, MP3.com hopes that the Copyright Office will put in place a legal framework that will to all intents and purposes overturn Judge Jed S Rakoff's April 2000 ruling that MP3.com's service violated the copyrights of RIAA members. That judgement paved the way for significant out-of-court settlement payments and court-specified damages which MP3.com has since been forced to pay to the world's five major recording companies.

Not that MP3.com is too optimistic. "Frankly, it is likely that neither the Copyright Office nor the courts will be able to fully and satisfactorily resolve these complex and far reaching issues given the way current laws are structured," said MP3.com's president and COO, Robin Richards. "Congress should be encouraged to address the realities of the Internet sooner, rather than later."

The Copyright Office is expected to publish its findings by the end of the year. ®

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