Aimster asks court to protect it from Napster's fate

Wants legal shield from RIAA action

Aimster has asked the US court to declare that it doesn't violate copyright law in a bid to protect itself from the same fate as its namesake, Napster.

Aimster's software allows AOL's Instant Messenger service to operate Napster-fashion and let users share files, MP3s among them. No surprise then that it received a letter from the Recording Industry Ass. of America a little while back demanding that it begin filtering out copyright music just like Napster has been forced to.

Aimster's problem with the request is that satisfying the RIAA would, it claims, involve violating its users privacy. It's a canny claim. Aimster plans to introduce encryption technology to scramble data as it passes between users. Bypassing an encryption system runs contrary to the US' Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and so Aimster wants to be protected from being forced to crack its own security technology.

Smart, huh? Perhaps too smart. The DMCA was intended to apply to anyone attempting to crack encryption systems designed to protect copyright. Aimster appears to be arguing that its crypto technology is there to protect its users' personal data - ie. content for which they own the copyright.

The court may not be impressed with this juggling of technicalities. After all, copyright infringement is copyright infringement, even if it's performed through a system designed to protect copyrights.

Aimster is also claiming that the DMCA protects it as a service provider. The DMCA essentially rules that ISPs are not responsible for the actions of their users, unless they're unaware of specific violations.

"Our position is that we are an ISP, and we comply with the [DMCA's] safe harbour provisions," said George Carpinello, Aimster's legal counsel. "The RIAA is trying to impose on us a duty to patrol and censor what goes through a private network."

A tad cheeky, that, given the way Aimster caved in an pulled its Pig Encoder software, designed to block Napster's filtering system. Aimster introduced Pig Encoder because it believed that filtering was a violation of Napster users' privacy. If it was so keen on maintaining that privacy - as its request of the court suggests - why let Napster persuade it to pull Pig Encoder? Could it be that it's really more interested in protecting its rear end from the RIAA than the privacy of its users?

If it is, you can't entirely blame it given the RIAA's record on litigation. That said, the RIAA has made no comment on follow-up legal action against Aimster if it continues to refuse to implement a filtering system. Other recipients of its letter, including Audio Galaxy and iMesh, have agreed to the RIAA's request.

More to the point, perhaps, Aimster's DMCA argument was also used by Napster. And look what good it did... ®

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