EMusic Goes After Napster

By Robert Menta- 11/22/00

In an effort to stop the trading of their music on Napster, EMusic.com announced it is launching an initiative designed to prevent the illegal distribution of EMusic songs on the service.

This initiative is based on the introduction of a new watermark scheme developed internally by EMusic. Called "acoustic fingerprinting" by the company, the watermark serves to identify songs on the Napster service, ratting out music purchased on the EMusic service and then made available on Napster.

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Both Napster and EMusic were in talks to come up with solutions to prevent this distribution, but in the end neither company could arrive at a technical agreement. EMusic feels that Napster was far from trying to accommodate their concerns.

"Over the past several months, EMusic has continually offered to work in good faith with Napster on this issue," said Gene Hoffman, EMusic president and CEO.

A frustrated Hoffman continued "We have proposed a number of viable solutions -- including detailing to Napster a fairly simple technology that would effectively block the unauthorized sharing of our music files without disrupting Napster users' accounts. Napster's unfortunate and inflexible response has been that EMusic's only course of action is to request that offending users' accounts be cut off completely. Although we feel that Napster could easily implement a more consumer-friendly solution, we will begin supplying this information on an ongoing basis."

When a Napster user downloads a song originally obtained from EMusic, the new technology pops up an ``instant message'' on their computer screens warning them that making this music available on Napster is copyright infringement. The warning also gives the user a 24-hour grace period to stop the continued distribution of the music.

How well this watermark technology will work has yet to be seen. Similar technologies have so far proven ineffectual in discouraging file trading. It also might be noted that for most of the music on its service, EMusic is not the copyright holder. This alone could preclude it by law from claiming damages in any legal suit.

Short on cash, going to court is not something EMusic wants to deal with right now anyway. Tagging the music sold on their service might be nothing more than collecting what they see is proof of violations and letting that collection grow until the copyright laws are more finely defined through legislation or the legal actions of other Net companies.

If the courts and legislation should decide down the road that companies like EMusic deserve damages when the music they sell is later traded on entities like Napster, then acoustic fingerprinting will earn its keep.

Until that day, EMusic may only be maintaining a dormant database of 'infractions' that may or may not see the light of day.

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