By Richard Menta 12/22/06
I realized that something very stange was going on when I saw on ArsTechnica that the RIAA filed suit against AllofMP3.com. Wasn't this site about to be closed by the Russian government according to a recent trade agreement with the US? They were dead in the water, right?
AllofMP3.com has long said it is legal under existing Russian law and that it will adjust to any changes in that law. Last month the company hired US representation to declare that it is here to stay and that under current American law it is legal for US citizens to acquire music through the service.
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The suit by the RIAA suggests that there may be some validity in AllofMP3's announcements and that the service is indeed not going away soon. If it were, why the suit? It also suggests that under Russian law AllofMP3 has a good enough case to keep it online there for the duration of any litigation. But what about US law?
Let's start by reminding everyone that the second and third highest courts in the land found in favor of the P2P services in the MGM v. Grokster case. It was only when that case went to the Supreme Court did the file sharing services falter. My point is that when it comes to good old law, declarations of legality and illegality don't mean a thing until several years of decisions and appeals have been exhausted.
If AllofMP3 has the money - and it will take a lot of money - it will be interesting to see what precedents may come about from this case. That's assuming AllofMP3 will stay in business long enough, because such endeavors will take years.
One tactic that stood out in the Ars article is that "the lawsuit seeks control of the company's domain names...". If a lower court ever grants the RIAA those domains it will effectively choke off AllofMP3's traffic and money supply, diminishing the service's chances to survive appeal after appeal.
But there is a big risk here for the RIAA too. A lengthy court case will serve as free advertising for AllofMP3, just like it did for Napster. That site is already the number two paid service in the UK and its traffic on Alexa suggests AllofMP3 is the second biggest worldwide. AllofMP3 might also win a couple of interesting precedents.
In 2002 MP3 Newswire wrote about the issues of carrying US Copyright law overseas. We said then:
Copyright law gets very interesting when we add foreign nations to the mix. If you think US laws like the DMCA are vague, convoluted, or just plain misguided, remember that there are hundreds of countries out their with their own complex array of laws. All of them arguably trying to do the right thing, but subject to the various political processes and internal pressure unique to each.
That's just a long-winded way of saying you want to find consensus in the world - good luck. What makes the Internet truly amazing and powerful to date is the way it transcends all of this, creating its own space - an ether if you like - that runs by its own rules. It not only clearly avoids the trappings of traditional international communication and commerce, it sometimes feeds off of it, using favorable states as safe harbors.
With all of the gray area regarding copyright law this case could evolve into the next MGM v Grokster. Though, that brings up another point. With file sharing more popular than ever has MGM v Grokster changed a thing?
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