RIAA and MPAA sue Morpheus, Grokster and KaZaa

By Richard Menta- 10/03/01

While the shut down of Napster stopped the trading of music files through that particular network, it didn't do too much to slow down the pace of overall trading. In fact, within a few months it became more popular than ever as almost immediately millions of people flooded to alternate file trading programs. Do you know what those user found? Some of those programs were as good if not better than Napster. All that most of them needed to fully compete was a growing audience of regular users to increase the diversity of the files made available.

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According to WebNoize, 3.05 billion files were downloaded in August via the leading Napster clones. At its peak last February Napster delivered 2.79 billion files. Despite their legal victories, the music industry has not been able to curb the growth of online trading.

Last July we reported that Napster clones took 6 out of CNet's Download.com top 10 downloads. The same is still true here in October. Topping the list are the popular FastTrack-powered P2P programs Morpheus and KaZaa who last week alone pulled in 1,698,291 and 1,158,607 requests respectively.

How does the music industry lobby arm the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) plan to address this? Guess.

Joining forces with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), The RIAA has filed suit against the FastTrack troika Morpheus, KaZaa, and Grokster for copyright infringement. The MPAA is involved because the FastTrack portals also trade movie files. Now both will try to shut down services that, by design, have made themselves more elusive than Napster.

"We cannot sit idly by while these services continue to operate illegally, especially at a time when new legitimate services are being launched," said RIAA Chief Executive Hilary Rosen in a statement.

But stopping Napster clones in court will be more difficult than the RIAA's legal battle with Napster. First, most of these services like Gnutella and FastTrack are designed without the need for a centralized server. Shut the parent company down (if there is one) and theoretically file trading continues unabated. Second, most of these enterprises have been developed overseas, away from US copyright law and American court decisions.

FastTrack is a dutch-based technology out of Amsterdam, where KaZaa is managed by FastTrack's CEO Niklas Zennström. Grokster's headquarters are in Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean. Only Music City, the company that puts out Morpheus, is located in the states with headquarters in Tennessee. But even if Music City's US location makes it more vulnerable to legal action, the heart and soul of the enterprise rides on technology originating from foreign soil. Is successful legal action really going to do anything more than push P2P services further underground, releasing more spores to ever more remote nations?

As John Alderman wrote in his recently published and illuminating book about the history of digital music Sonic Boom:

Being essentially a legal group, RIAA's concentration was on litigating and lawmaking, rather than research or development that might create new models. Preserving the status quo of the non-digital world was the goal, unless expanding members' rights was an option.

In other words, when you put lawyers in charge of business decisions - as the record industry has done - the response is invariably to litigate. As powerful a tool that is, the problem with litigation is it takes time and does not easily cross international bounderies. Napster clones work much faster.

As the largest grassroots effort in the history of the world, file trading is essentially the average person's way of saying we don't agree with the status quo. As we wrote in our article 6 CDs a Year status quo here has more to do about music pricing and accessibility than it does about file trading.

The music industry can sue all they want, but if they don't open themselves up to new business models they have a long and vulnerable road ahead. Yes, there is PressPlay and MusicNet, the "legitimate services" Hilary Rosen alluded to in her comments. Unfortunately, the hinted pricing and accessibility details released by those entities only reinforce the record industry's notion to maintain the status quo.

The status quo is the achilles heel of the record industry and why throughout this whole soap opera of Napster and file trading and fair use and copyright law, their actions have actually done more to promote the practice of two people swapping songs than stop it. They have the power to create products that actually compete in the market place and compel consumers to use their services.

Had they taken Napster's offer of a $1 billion settlement last February and allowed it to set up as a very cheap, but unlimited, subscription service quite a few users would have stayed with it. That would have limited the phenominal growth these clones have experienced over the last few months, a growth literally forced by Napster's closure. Napster was already in the possession of Bertelsmann AG at the time they made that offer and most of the clones now topping Download.com were yet to be released.

It didn't matter, the record industry wanted more and this lawsuit shows they got their wish.

The RIAA's press release can be read here.

Other Stories:
PressPlay and MusicNet to Launch
Review: Aiwa MM-RX400 MP3 Portable
6 CDs a Year - That's all the average person buys. This has significant meaning to the Net music world.


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