May 24, 2002 2:30 PM PDT

Audiogalaxy in RIAA crosshairs

The Recording Industry Association of America on Friday filed a copyright lawsuit against Audiogalaxy, adding another front to the industry's legal battles against post-Napster file-swapping services.

Filed in federal court in New York, the suit charges that Audiogalaxy's efforts to filter access to copyrighted songs have been ineffective. As a result, free-ranging access to copyrighted works through the system has gone unchecked--much as once happened with Napster, the industry group contends.

"If they had demonstrated the ability to filter, we wouldn't be here," said Matt Oppenheim, an RIAA senior vice president. "A first-year computer programmer could do better than they have."

Audiogalaxy is one of the oldest Napster clones and has been consistently popular for the last year. According to Download.com, a software aggregation site operated by News.com publisher CNET Networks, the software has been downloaded at least 30 million times.

Its popularity has fallen off somewhat in recent months, eclipsed by higher-profile services including Kazaa. But many MP3 hunters, discussing the merits of various services on online bulletin boards, continue to say that Audiogalaxy remains the best place to find rare or bootleg tracks.

Like several other file-swapping services, Audiogalaxy began efforts to filter access to some copyrighted works in mid-2001 after Napster was ordered to do so by a federal judge. However, Napster was never able to comply completely with the court order, and the company shut down its service rather than face increased legal liability.

The RIAA also has copyright suits pending against Napster, StreamCast Networks and its Morpheus software, Amsterdam-based Kazaa BV, West Indies-based Grokster, MP3Board and Madster (formerly known as Aimster).

The Audiogalaxy suit was filed in the southern district of New York, naming the company and CEO Michael Merhej. According to Oppenheim, 476 copyrighted works, all of which could be downloaded using Audiogalaxy, serve as the basis of the suit.

The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) and the Harry Fox Agency, which represents songwriters, also joined the RIAA in the lawsuit.

Oppenheim said the recording industry gave Audiogalaxy large numbers of songs to be filtered at several different periods, and the labels periodically updated these lists with information about new releases.

Audiogalaxy filters some searches, but the blocking appears to be haphazard. A search for Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence"--one track cited by the RIAA--came up with 41 matches. The first was blocked, and clicking on it returned a message saying: "SEARCH PROHIBITED. You cannot request this song due to copyright restrictions. Please try a different search."

The remaining 40 versions of the song were not blocked, however.

Audiogalaxy's Merhej could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

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