In response to the difficulties I've been having getting my $20,000 whole home audio/video setup to play the 99 cent songs I'm purchasing online, several readers wrote to me about a Russian outfit that they thought was legally selling digital music a la carte without wrapping the music in any digital rights management (DRM) envelopes. To legally open most songs purchased through iTunes, you need an Apple-authorized palyer to open the FairPlay DRM envelopes that they come in (for example, an iPod or Apple's iTunes software). AllofMP3.com has a wide selection of music and when you buy that music, it can be encoded on the fly into just about any format you want (MP3, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, etc.). But is it really legal?
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the International Federation of the Phonograph Industry (IFPI) -- sort of an international version of the RIAA -- has declared AllofMP3.com to be operating in violation of copyright holders rights. But there isn't a lot of current information on the Web regarding where the IFPI's case against AllofMP3.com. Today, IFPI spokesperson Adrian Strain sent me an update via e-mail. Here's what it said:
We submitted a complaint to the most senior Moscow prosecutor in July (this is the third submission) and are awaiting that decision. Allofmp3.com was declared illegal by the court in Germany in May. The portal to the site in Italy, "allofmp3.it" was shut down by the Italian police in July. By the way, the Russian Organization for Multimedia & Digital Systems (ROMS) does not have the authority to licence the site and was thrown out of CISAC in October last year for purporting to grant licences it was not entitled to grant. We have consistently said that the site breaks international copyright laws by its sale and digital distribution of copyrighted music without the consent or authorisation of the rights holders.
The reference to ROMS is important because supporters of AllofMP3.com claim that its working with ROMS to make sure copyright holders are getting compensated for the purchase of a la carte music. CISAC is the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.
So, things aren't looking good for AllofMP3.com. But here's a question: Let's say I get a hold of a DRM-free version of some song from a site like AllofMP3.com that's still up and running (the fact that it's not shut down yet leads me to believe that the Russian authorities are not yet convinced of the site's illegality). If I wanted to make sure the copyright holders got whatever royalties were due to them, how would I do that? In other words, where do I send the check?