March 15, 1999 11:30 AM PST

MP3 firms clash over copyrighted code

Net music technology firm PlayMedia Systems has filed a federal lawsuit against Nullsoft, maker of the popular Winamp MP3 player, alleging copyright infringement and seeking more than $20 million in damages.

PlayMedia, which develops digital content distribution and management software and hardware including the AMP MP3 playback engine, is accusing Nullsoft of using AMP code, which was written by PlayMedia principal Tomislav Uzelac, in its Winamp player. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Along with the monetary award, PlayMedia is seeking a permanent injunction against Nullsoft, which is denying the claims and planning a countersuit.

The suit comes at a tumultuous time in the online music download arena. Though MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3) is enjoying great popularity and momentum as a de facto standard for music downloads, it is reviled by many in the music industry, because its ease of use makes it a favorite among music pirates.

The Recording Industry Association of America is spearheading the Secure Digital Music Initiative in an effort to create a specification to ensure that all music downloads are secure and that copyright holders collect their royalties. PlayMedia is a member of the initiative.

Though a number of lawsuits are pending over MP3--including one against Diamond Multimedia by the RIAA over its portable Rio MP3 player--in general the MP3 community has been a united front against the music industry. This suit pits two MP3 makers against each other.

Nullsoft is denying the charges. "While it is true that Winamp initially licensed code for the decoding of MPEG audio files from Tomislav Uzelac, this code was replaced with proprietary code developed by Nullsoft as of June 1998," Nullsoft said in a statement. "In general, the 'facts' as contained within the complaint are highly inaccurate.

"Nullsoft believes the entire complaint is without merit and will vigorously defend itself and [president and lead programmer] Justin Frankel," the company continued. "Further, Nullsoft intends to pursue claims against PlayMedia Systems as the result of false statements made by its representatives."

For its part, PlayMedia is aware that its suit potentially could do damage to the MP3 movement: "I want to be clear that this suit has nothing to do with MP3's intrinsic legitimacy as a format for the playback and enjoyment of music," PlayMedia chief executive Brian Litman said in a statement.

 

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