Jail term for MP3 pirates predicted

Downloading MP3 using Napster or Gnutella? Ever thought what the inside of a cell looks like?
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

Within the next four months, a student or "other individual found downloading illegal MP3 tracks" will go to jail "as a clear signal that piracy will not be tolerated in the US."

That is the prediction from a senior figure within the music industry at the nme.com NetSounds conference in London Monday. The source, who requested anonymity, believes the American courts are under pressure from an increasingly litigious RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) which is currently suing MP3.com, to make an example of a digital pirate.

The threat of a legal case against an individual user of Napster or its open source equivalent, Gnutella was raised at the conference by ZDNet during a Legal Issues session. Paul Jessop, director of technology at the IFPI (International Federation of Phonographic Industries) said that apart from the jurisdictional issues, there exist other obstacles to successful prosecution. "For example, using Napster, you can set up the machine so it behaves like a sharing application," Jessop explains. "That is clearly against the law and such a case would be interesting. But it is the issue of personal use [where one single copy is permitted] which will be most difficult in an actual case."

Legal challenges however, are seemingly irrelevant to the legal minds at the RIAA which is still congratulating itself on its successful battle with MP3.com. The RIAA has also successfully prosecuted Web site owners who have distributed music over the Net. In at least three such cases, out of court settlements have been reached -- equivalent to a slap on the wrist.

The source believes a message is about to be delivered squarely at the student audience in America, who are famed for distributing MP3 on Zip disks and over the Net. "I have to say that if the RIAA is looking to make a serious impact on this problem, the students are the guys who are going to be hit," he says.

Steve Sutherland, group editor of nme.com and moderator at the conference, reckons the current mood of the RIAA and associations like it, make a high profile legal case against an individual an inevitability. However, Sutherland is frank in his condemnation of any such action: "Let them sue an individual, I'm sure they will. It will backfire though. There will be such an outcry if an individual were prosecuted..."

Robin Bynoe, partner with London law firm, Charles Russell confirmed that there is a chance British users could face legal action, and even jail terms for downloading illegal MP3s, but said current legislation is primarily used "as a threat" rather than a punishment. Asked if the IFPI were considering taking legal action against any British users, Jessop assures ZDNet no such plans are underway.

If Limp Bizkit wants to give its music away, that's fine. But Metallica, and Dr. Dre, and a whole lot of other groups don't. And that is their right. Go and read the news comment at AnchorDesk.

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