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PC World

Analysis: Why the RIAA sued


January 26, 2000
Web posted at: 1:41 p.m. EST (1841 GMT)

by Michael Learmonth

(IDG) -- From the start,'s Instant Listening Service and Beam-it utilities were controversial. Friday, the other shoe dropped.

As expected, the Recording Institute Association of America, or RIAA, filed suit against, alleging that the utilities constitute a "blatant infringement" of copyright laws.

"The foundation on which these services are built is an unauthorized digital archive of the most valuable copyrighted recordings in the world," says RIAA general counsel Cary Sherman in a statement. "Frankly, it's astonishing that a publicly-traded company would behave so recklessly."
MP3: The New Wave
Gadget fever's Instant Listening Service and Beam-it were introduced on January 12. The services were billed as new technologies that allowed consumers to "listen to their music anywhere, anytime." When an customer buys a CD online through an partner, the CD's songs can be transferred immediately into the customer's on-site account at Similarly, the Beam-it service allows a consumer to put an already-owned CD into a computer's disk drive, have the CD recognized and its songs transferred into their account

  Music trade group sues MP3 start-up Napster ungagged
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"What is truly exciting is that once you own a CD, it can be listened to anywhere in the world through," chairman Michael Robertson said when the service was introduced. "Not only will music fans be able to listen to their own CD collection on a standard PC, but they will also be able to listen to them through the wide assortment of new Internet appliances that are being developed for the market."

Copying on site

To accomplish this feat, bought 40,000 CDs, translated each CD's tracks into MP3 format, and created a database. The copies transferred into customers' accounts actually come from the database on's servers, not from recordings individually owned by consumers.

This is what's problematic to the RIAA and copyright advocates. The Copyright Act of 1971 prohibits anyone but the copyright owner from making a copy of a recording. An exception to that law was created by Congress in the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which prevented consumers from being sued by record companies for making copies of recordings for their own use.

"The copy was made by, not by the consumer," notes Lon Sobel, editor of Entertainment Law Reporter. "I couldn't imagine how they thought that what it was doing was legal." sticks by its guns's Robertson said in a statement that his company plans to fight the complaint.

"On behalf of consumers, we are disappointed that the positive benefits and security features of our newly upgraded service are misunderstood by some people in the music industry," said Robertson. " provides more choices for consumers to do what they want with the music they already own. Our technology also enables artists to communicate directly with their fan base. We believe will stimulate CD sales and be a financial boon for the music industry overall."

Yahoo to offer Web-based invitations
January 21, 2000 lets users store their music online
January 12, 2000
MP3 launches user radio station
December 10, 1999
Studios sue MP3 startup Napster
December 9, 1999

Store your CDs online at
(PC World Online)
Recording industry sues
(Network World Fusion)
Create your own MP3 radio station
(PC World Online) ungagged
(The Industry Standard)
The MP3 revolution rages on
(The Industry Standard)
Online music distributor files for IPO
Music trade group sues MP3 start-up Napster
RioPort, RIAA end legal spat over MP3 player
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Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
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