MP3 in the dock as fresh lawsuit emerges

MP3 is back in the dock following a fresh legal clash between the recording industry and a Scandinavian search engine company -- a move that shows the piracy debate is hotting up once again.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) on Wednesday sued Norwegian company FAST Search & Transfer ASA over the use of its MP3 search engine and database which it has licensed to portal giant Lycos. Fast's software offers links to more than half a million MP3-based online recorded songs.

It is the first time a search engine firm has faced legal action over copyright infringement. The IFPI fears MP3 search engines encourage massive systematic copyright piracy and it believes the partnership with Lycos will exacerbate the problem of illegitimate music use on a far greater scale. Mike Edwards, IFPI director of operations, claimed the search engine threatened to kill off the flourishing legal online audio community by supporting mostly illegal files. It claimed that virtually all files captured by Fast's engine were illegal.

"The Lycos/Fast search engine should be promoting opportunities for the many start-up businesses that are pioneering legitimate electronic delivery of music over the Internet. Instead, however, this search engine is doing the opposite: its is providing a service where virtually no authorised files can be found," said Edwards.

But the cyber piracy fracas has created a timely opening for rivals to promote their own online audio technology. Backing the IFPI lawsuit was Swiss-based Audiosoft, which is itself in the business of online music distribution software, with a product called Licensed-MP3(LMP3).

Although they are not known for their musical talent, Norwegian record producers along with IFPI Norway, were key instigators in this latest legal row. The IFPI, through its global network, has been ramping up its activities worldwide: In France, individuals face criminal action after police seized pirate material; 12 criminal complaints have been filed in the Czech Republic; in Denmark and Germany criminal proceeding are underway against Web site operators; Swedish Police are currently investigating online copyright infringements; in the US, there is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) versus Diamond case and the RIAA, along with the FBI, has files a number of other lawsuits.

The RIAA said it is mulling over whether to follow the IFPI with legal action against Fast.


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