Aimster Sues the Record Industry

By Robert Menta- 5/3/01

In an effort to capitalize on favorable court decisions in the Napster case, the record industry again sent out cease and desist letters to several digital file-trading companies. Threatening an expensive litigation if they don't comply, the industry hopes to compel cash strapped Net music entities to back down and begin blocking music. One file-trading service, Aimster, got this letter is responding by fighting back. Wednesday, they filed suit in US District Court in NY against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

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``The RIAA sent a letter saying that Aimster is identical to Napster and we needed to block (file sharing) in the same way that Napster does or they would take additional legal remedies,'' said Aimster CEO Johnny Deep. ``We're asking the court for a ruling that says it would be wrong to sue us because we're doing nothing wrong,''

The suit is asking the court for a declaratory judgment that the company does not infringe on copyrights or violate copyright law.

Aimster was specifically designed to fall within fair use and ISP guidelines to avoid the legal exposure of other P2P trading software. Their actions, the company feels, places them firmly within the safe harbor provisions of copyright law. The software rides atop America Online's instant messaging service, which automatically limits file trading to only friends and acquaintances on a user's buddy list.

This, Aimster claims, makes them a private network and not subject to the same standards applied in the Napster trial. In their favor, the California courts have made a concerted effort to narrow their decisions specifically towards Napster so as not to burden companies operating legally with overly broad rulings. This effort suggests the courts acknowledge the significant gray area of copyright law as it applies to the Internet and the considerable impact too broad a precedent can inadvertantly set.

Representing Aimster is Boies, Schiller and Flexner, the same law office defending Napster. They are well acquainted with the merits of the Napster trial and while their efforts in that case have been frustrated so far, the setbacks do give them a strong perspective when applying these merits to Aimster.

Meanwhile Aimster's audience begins to grow, driven by former Napster users looking for file trading alternatives. With over 4 million users at present, Aimster is one of the larger file trading entities on the Net, a fact that has drawn the company into the record industry's crosshairs.

The RIAA has already checked off Napster as a done deal. It is now going after the rest of Net music as it drives to take control of the online music industry. Hillary Rosen, President of the RIAA, made that clear in a statement recently.

"Emotionally, Napster is over," said Rosen Tuesday. "We've moved on already."


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