By Robert Menta- 4/1/00
The first shots were fired this week as Napster Inc., the San Mateo CA startup that exploded on the MP3 scene with its popular community trading software, goes to court.
The recording industry, represented by the powerful Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is looking to shut the company down, claiming the Napster software violates copyright law. Calling Napster a copyright "infringement machine" the RIAA hopes to kill the software by early June.
It looks like that won't be easy because first they have to get by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel who fired a key shot of her own.
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Judge Patel asked Russell Frackman, attorney for the RIAA, if the issues in this case were similar to the motion picture industry's complaints against VCRs twenty years ago. That case set a number of precedents in favor of the then new technology and if the complaints against Napster are deemed similar, the RIAA's case could be shot down.
``Is this as much ado about not as much as you think it is?'' Patel asked Frackman.
This may be the most important early news in the case as the judge has put an additional burden of proof upon the RIAA, thus dictating the course of this trial right from the start. Either distance this case from the 1970's decision or prepare to be disapointed.
The RIAA can not afford a negative ruling based on the VCR precedent. It presently has another lawsuit against MP3.com and it's My.MP3.com site. That site takes advantage of one of the precepts of those VCR trials called Time Shifting which the company has ingeniously applied. Should the judge rule the VCR precedents apply in the Napster case, it may all but doom the RIAA's case against MP3.com. Therefore, the results of this case may have reverberations that make it a landmark in the future course of the digital music industry as a whole.
This doesn't suggest that it will be an easy road for Napster. Patel grilled Lawrence Pulgram, Napsters attorney, for over and hour about how Napster works. When Pulgram asserted that Napster's purpose was to help new unknown artists get exposure, the judge - who tried the software before the trial - was quick to pounce.
"I didn't see much of anything that didn't seem recognizable. These are not new artists".
The next court date is due April 10th. It looks to be an interesting show.
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