Earlier this week, digital music Web site MP3.com, Inc. was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on behalf of no less than 10 major record labels.
The lawsuit alleges that the My.MP3.com service, which was introduced this month, violates music copyrights by allowing consumers to store digital copies of CDs on the site.
In an open letter, MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson vowed to vigorously fight RIAA’s allegations.
“The RIAA’s action tells all of these thousands of consumers that they are not entitled to take their music into the digital age,” Robertson said. “Our service is nothing more than a virtual CD player. It is a new and innovative technology that lets people listen to their music. We have every intention of fighting [the RIAA’s] efforts to dictate the way people can use their music.”
No Right To Copy
The RIAA also contends that the San Diego, California-based MP3.com has already made an unauthorized database of about 45,000 popular CDs. The suit seeks $150,000 (US$) in damages for each “willful infringement” of its members’ copyrighted works, which could add up to as much as $67.5 billion.
“Simply put, it is not legal to compile a vast database of our members’ sound recordings with no permission and no license,” said RIAA president and CEO Hilary Rosen. “And whatever the individual’s right to use their own music, you cannot exploit that for your company’s commercial gain. MP3.com’s actions not only violate the rights of our member companies but also are an affront to artists, music publishers and writers, producers and other retailers.”
Dancing Around the Real Issue
As far as I can tell, MP3 and the RIAA are fighting each other over what amounts to a hill of beans. The RIAA may well be correct that the My.MP3.com service technically violates copyright laws.
However, MP3 is probably correct in saying that it does no damage to the record companies or their artists. It is also safe to say that MP3 was probably asking for a major confrontation with major record labels with the My.MP3.com service.
The question I want to ask is, why is the RIAA suing MP3.com when it should be discussing how to use the MP3 technology to further the distribution of music?
The suit, in short, is going to benefit a lot of lawyers, but is really not going to benefit record companies, musicians or consumers. Furthermore, since MP3’s latest financial statement shows that it has more than $57 million in the bank, the RIAA is not going to bluff its way into some weak settlement.
The Real Issues
The bottom line here is that the music industry is fooling itself if it thinks it will benefit by winning a minor skirmish with MP3 on the question of whether it can allow its customers to store their CDs online in MP3 format. Even if the RIAA wins, it does not resolve any of the real issues facing the industry.
No one will really benefit until the RIAA starts dealing with how to allow its newly released music to be sold in MP3 format, as well as on analog CDs. Is this coming? It is hard to imagine that it is not.
Online distribution of music is a key piece of the merger of AOL and Time Warner, along with Time Warner’s acquisition of EMI. So let’s start dealing with the real issues and stop wasting time in unproductive lawsuits.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.