Internet music - in the line of fire

Congressional hearings, new lawsuits from Snoop Dogg's record label and a study claiming college piracy is hurting music sales put MP3 downloads in the spotlight

The music industry is on the offensive. A day after a company with close ties to the music industry released a report identifying online music swapping as the culprit in the decline of retail music sales near colleges, TVT Records -- the indie label behind rap star Snoop Dogg -- let loose a lawsuit on Internet music site MP3.com.

Add to that record labels' testimony in front of a Congressional committee lamenting the increase in casual pirating, and it increasingly looks like the music industry is on the warpath.

"The current culture of the Internet could be described as a culture of infringement," said Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy Records, in remarks submitted to the US House of Representative's Small Business Committee on Wednesday.

"The result ... is that perfectly reasonable people who would never walk into a Tower Records and steal a compact disc because the believe it is wrong are doing (just that) on the Internet."

Silverman's testimony is the latest in a number of salvos being fired by the music industry at consumers who swap digital music and services, and at technologies that make such swapping easier.

The TVT suit, filed Wednesday in the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, accuses MP3.com of copyright infringement stemming from the creation of a massive database of music that is the centrepiece of its My.MP3.com service. The suit "is the first to be brought by an independent label," said TVT's spokesman Paul Freundlich.

The database contains digitised tracks from more than 80,000 albums -- the majority of which MP3.com has no rights to copy. "The vast majority of TVT's roster is represented on MP3.com's database," said Fruendlich.

Previously, the Recording Industry Association of America sued MP3.com on the same basis and has won some key arguments in the ongoing case.

The suit follows a long line of other legal efforts attempting to derail companies whose services and technologies allow the free exchange of digital music.

Napster has been sued by artists Metallica and Dr. Dre over the issue, as well as by the Recording Industry Association of America. A spokeswoman for the RIAA told The Associated Press that the Reciprocal study "confirm(s) our worst fears."

And, as far back as October 1998, the Recording Industry Association of America sued multimedia hardware maker Diamond Multimedia (now S3), after the company announced the imminent release of its Rio PMP300 MP3 player. After an initial victory, the RIAA lost a critical motion and then settled the suit.

Emusic.com's 24 year old CEO Gene Hoffman says MP3s are all about convenience -- not piracy, lawsuits or free music. Go to AnchorDesk UK and read the news comment.

Can MP3 kill the music industry? Are consumers being ripped off? Does the price of a CD encourage piracy? Go to the TalkBack forums and join in the "Napster Debate" online.

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