December 3, 2002 4:13 PM PST

Madster told to pull the plug

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A Chicago federal judge has ordered file-swapping service Madster, formerly known as Aimster, to unplug its computers from the Internet in a last-ditch effort to prevent music piracy on its network.

Federal judge Marvin Aspen has already ordered Madster to prevent trades of copyrighted music on its service. In papers filed with the court, Madster owner Johnny Deep called the order "impractical," and the Madster service has stayed online.

In the midst of weighing arguments as to whether Deep and Madster should be held in contempt of court, Aspen ordered Madster to disconnect its Web site and any computers used in the file-sharing service. If the company doesn't voluntarily pull its own plug, the judge added, record labels are free to go to Madster's Internet service provider and ask it to shut down all connections to the service.

"(Madster is) continuing to infringe the (record companies') copyrights despite the preliminary injunction order," Aspen wrote in an order released late Monday. "Unless a temporary restraining order is issued, (the labels) will continue to suffer irreparable harm, which is increasing."

The fight over Madster's service has had little effect on the volume of file-swapping still taking place on the Net. The vast majority of song-swappers have moved to Kazaa, Morpheus or other services, and Madster itself has declared bankruptcy.

Aspen's ongoing rulings and interpretations of copyright law are nonetheless proving influential, and have found their way into the record labels' and movie studios' suit against Kazaa parent Sharman Networks, Morpheus parent StreamCast Networks, and Grokster.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said that Aspen's latest ruling can't be ignored.

"This temporary restraining order will certainly make clear that the infringement must stop immediately, whether that is through (Madster's) actions or actions by its Internet service provider," said RIAA President Cary Sherman in a statement.

Deep could not immediately be reached for comment. In papers recently filed with the court, he said that Madster's encryption made it impossible to figure out what files individual people were trading and that filtering specific copyrighted songs was therefore impractical.

As that encryption could be used to protect licensed content, breaking through that file-scrambling technology could itself be a violation of copyright law, he contended.

Aspen's order made it clear he wasn't initially sympathetic to Deep's argument, but he has scheduled a hearing on Dec. 19 to discuss whether Deep should be held in contempt of the original song-blocking order.

Monday's temporary restraining order will be in effect until Dec. 22. As of late Tuesday, Madster's Web site was still in operation.

 

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