January 13, 2004 7:44 AM PST

High court turns deaf ear to Aimster

The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear an appeal of a lower court's order that pulled the plug on Aimster, a file-swapping service similar to Napster in design.

The justices on Monday declined without explanation to hear the case, which would have been the first Internet music piracy dispute to reach the high court. In general, the Supreme Court accepts only a small percentage of appeals each year.

Claiming copyright violations, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Aimster in May 2001, around the same time that its litigation against Napster and Scour was getting under way.

Two months later, the Motion Picture Association of America filed a separate lawsuit against Aimster, which had already started asking for donations to offset its mounting legal fees.

In response, Aimster founder Johnny Deep renamed the company Madster.com and added a subscription service. "Internet services themselves are going to come under the burden of having to police if the trend (of more lawsuits) continues, and then there won't be any Internet at all...It becomes a kind of absurd obligation to police an Internet service," Deep said in a 2001 interview with CNET News.com.

The RIAA won a preliminary victory when a federal judge ordered Aimster to unplug its computers from the Internet in December 2002. A federal appeals court upheld the injunction in June 2003, leaving the Supreme Court as Deep's last hope.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Deep needed to do more than show that Aimster might be used for purposes other than music piracy, pointing out that Deep "provided no evidence whatsoever" that Aimster was actually being used that way.

Another case the Supreme Court declined to hear Monday involved a First Amendment challenge to a federal law restricting unsolicited faxes. The case has been of interest to legal scholars because--if the court had decided to take it--it could have affected the fate of the newly enacted federal law regulating spam.

In that case, Missouri v. American Blast Fax, the state of Missouri sued Fax.com and American Blast Fax for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which makes it unlawful "to send an unsolicited advertisement to a telephone facsimile machine."

A federal judge ruled that the law violated Americans' free speech rights, but an appeals court reversed the ruling in March 2003.

 

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