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MP3.com source of Napster copyright theft, suit claims

Online music company sued for 'viral infringement'

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You've heard of viral infection and viral marketing, now here's a new, even sillier one: viral copyright infringement. Yes, it does exist, it has to - MP3.com has just been sued over it.

The legal action comes from a group of 52 independent songsters and publishers says a report in the San Jose Mercury. They claim MP3.com's MyMP3.com 'virtual hi-fi' service is directly responsible for the spread of their material on Napster and other music-sharing services.

The irony here is that MP3.com always claimed that the Recording Industry Ass. of America's legal attack on Napster had nothing to do with said organisation's legal attack on MP3.com. And vice versa.

The plaintiffs in the new case allege that if MP3.com hadn't allowed users to post copies of their own CDs online in order to be able to play them back on any PC, anywhere, then all those copyright-trouncing Napster fans wouldn't have had anything to download and share with others of their ilk.

The fact that MyMP3.com was designed users access to their own copies, not others', and that almost all Napster sharers - at least in the early days, when MyMP3.com was running - were ripping CDs doesn't seem to have occurred to the plaintiffs.

Still, with MP3.com having lost is argument that MyMP3.com only provided CD owners with a way to enjoy their music elsewhere, as if they had made a tape to listen to in the car, something technically not contrary to copyright law, and subsequently forced to pay $53.4 million to Vivendi Universal, the latest case's protagonists clearly scent the opportunity of a big pay-out, no matter how daft - or hard to prove - the claim.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages from MP3.com. However, the group's lawyer, New York-based Ray Mantle, told the SJM the figure is likely to be higher than the sum paid to Universal, which now, ironically, owns MP3.com.

"If a song has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times on Napster, and at least a portion of that is attributable to MP3.com, the magnitude of damages that should be assessed would be many, many times what they would be liable for under direct infringement," he said. ®

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