September 19, 2003 1:26 PM PDT
RIAA sues iMesh file-trading firm
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The record labels' trade association alleges that iMesh has contributed to massive copyright infringement online, much as other file-trading companies before it. The suit marked the clearest sign since the beginning of the RIAA's lawsuits against hundreds of song-swappers that the trade group will continue to pursue software companies as well as individuals.
"After last week's announcement of 261 lawsuits against individual users...there's a growing awareness that taking music that is not yours off the Internet can have real consequences and people are beginning to think twice before doing it," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement. "However, the operators of these unauthorized networks should be held accountable...for the illegal activity occurring on their networks."
The RIAA has made similar announcements many times before, filing against Napster, Aimster, Audio Galaxy, Streamcast Networks, Sharman Networks and others. But the trade group goes into this latest suit operating from a far more uncertain legal position than with most of those previous suits.
Like Grokster, iMesh licenses the FastTrack file-swapping technology, which is also the basis for the Kazaa file-trading system.
However, a Los Angeles federal court judge ruled in April that Grokster, along with Streamcast, was not responsible for copyright infringement by people using its software to trade songs or movies. The judge compared the file-swapping software to a Xerox photocopier or a VCR, saying that both were legal technologies that could be used for illegal activities, and that their manufacturers could not be held liable for purchasers' infringement.
The RIAA has appealed that decision, saying that it did not match earlier decisions in cases against Napster and Aimster, in which judges separately ruled that the file-swapping companies could be held liable for their users' actions.
iMesh responded to the legal action by pointing to the ruling in the Los Angeles court.
"IMesh has received the lawsuit and we intend to respond appropriately, and to win this case on merit," an iMesh spokesman said. "The recording industry has lost a summary judgment motion this year, filed by Grokster and StreamCast. In those cases, the court found that those companies do not violate copyright laws."
Taking aim at iMesh
iMesh has operated for close to four years using several sets of successive file-trading technologies. Based in Israel, it maintains a New York public relations agency, is incorporated in Delaware, and specifies in its terms of service that disputes arising from the software should be litigated in New York courts.
It has been gaining in popularity over recent months, driven in part by claims that it can help protect users' anonymity. However, several iMesh users were among those sued by the RIAA last week.
According to Download.com, a software aggregation site operated by News.com publisher CNET Networks, iMesh has been downloaded more than 57 million times over the past few years, including 533,499 times last week.
In a prepared set of questions and answers, the RIAA offered only scant explanation for why the company had not been sued until this week.
"There is no bad time to enforce our members' rights against illegal activity," the organization said in the release. "IMesh's recent conduct and public statements make clear that its goal is to encourage illegal behavior. This action is timed to make clear that there is no free pass for those who center their activity around, and profit from, copyright infringement."
In an interview last week, iMesh CEO Elan Oren said he had had conversations with copyright holders over the years trying to license music for distribution through iMesh, but that he had been rebuffed.
"I think there would be a stronger case for copyright owners' (lawsuits against individual users) if their content was made available to iMesh," he said