Congress might screw RIAA over MP3 shares

Fair use gets a fair hearing

US Representative Rick Boucher (Democrat, Virginia) introduced a bill, called the "Music Owners' Listening Rights Act of 2000", in the House Monday which would protect a downloadable audio database from copyright infringement complaints if it were accessible only to people who had previously purchased the music in another format. In other words, if they behaved just like MP3.com.

"Simply stated, a consumer who lawfully owns a work of music, such as a CD, will be able to store it on the Internet and then downstream it for personal use at a time and place of his choosing," Boucher said.

Boucher explained quite rationally that his legislative amendment would not adversely affect royalties, because consumers must prove current ownership of the music they download.

Too late, alas, for MP3.com, which has already paid a $20 million settlement to four major labels, and then got reamed to the tune of $118 million with a court judgment in favour of holdout antagonist Universal Music, which insisted on its day in court and associated pound of flesh.

We love the ballsy way Boucher refers to the purchaser of a musical work as its 'owner'. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will undoubtedly take a radically different view.

However, the RIAA may soon find itself marginalised. Microsoft Nemesis and former DoJ antitrust specialist David Boies has accused the RIAA of "serious errors" in its court filings and has stated that MP3.com is already protected by the US Home Recordings Act.

The courts have not seen fit to agree, but if Congress should somehow manage to grow a spine after the election season, which it often magically does, the legal ambiguities governing fair use of copyrighted material, on which the RIAA has lately feasted, will get sorted out much to its chagrin. ®




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