AOL told to stop shipping AOL 6.0

AOL 7.0 roll-out threatened

AOL has been forced by a US court to halt shipments of its AOL 6.0 software - and could affect the recently launched version 7.0.

PlayMedia, the company behind the AMP MP3 player engine under the hood of WinAMP and other popular MP3 playback applications, has successfully forced AOL to cease shipping product that contains its technology.

Judge A. Howard Matz in the Los Angeles District Court yesterday ordered AOL to stop shipping AOL 6.0 while it continues to include AOL Media Player. Look at the software's initials and you'll see why: Media Player is essentially a modern version of WinAMP, developed after AOL bought Nullsoft.

PlayMedia originally licensed Nullsoft its AMP MP3 code and granted the WinAMP maker the right to sub-license AMP. That right, it insists, does not convey on AOL a right to use AMP in its own online access software, even if it did buy Nullsoft. And, to prove its point, PlayMedia sued AOL for copyright infringement last April.

Judge Matz' ruling grants PlayMedia a preliminary injunction against AOL until the company's case against the media giant has been judged in court. The ruling prevents AOL from shipping AOL 6.0 - either directly or through third-parties - while it contains AMP code, though it is permitted to ship the MP3 decoded in WinAMP. Equally, it has to block any AOL 6.0 user whose installed version of the software contains AMP - though said users are allowed access to the AOL service in order for the company to remove the offending code through its Live Update mechanism.

AOL has been ordered to put up $500,000 as security for its complicity in the Judge's order.

AOL originally sought to block a preliminary injunction on the grounds that such a move would cost it too much money and, in any case, it denies the copyright infringement charge. It's now heavily promoting AOL 7.0, but since that software may contain an AMP-based AOL Media Player, it is also covered by the injunction. The Judge's ruling forbids the use of AMP in all software but WinAMP.

As we went to press, AOL had yet to comment on the presence of AMP code in Media Player 7.0.

PlayMedia, meanwhile, has a history of litigation. The licensing deal it struck with Nullsoft came about after it sued the WinAMP maker in May 1999 for illegally including AMP in that very application. The suit soon took in MP3.com, which was promoting WinAMP at the time, but was settled the following June on the day after AOL announced its intention to buy Nullsoft.

More recently, PlayMedia was signed by Napster to produce a proprietary '.nap' music format for the sharing company's upcoming copyright-protecting service. ®

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