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R.I.P. Audiogalaxy as we know it.

On Monday June 17, 2002, Audiogalaxy reached an out of court settlement with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and has agreed to not to infringe RIAA members' copyright interests, following a lawsuit filed by RIAA on May 24. In other words, just you try downloading anything, and I mean anything, from Audiogalaxy. You won't have much luck.

The lawsuit1, filed as a class action by RIAA on behalf of its members, was announced in a press release on the RIAA web site (www.riaa.org), alleging that Audiogalaxy knew infringements were taking place, and did nothing despite being able to prevent it and providing "a continuously updated database and index of infringing sound recordings", and that Audiogalaxy was hoping "to profit from its pirate system by building an extensive user base to attract advertisers and investment dollars"

The lawsuit makes interesting reading. Of the 745 members listed at RIAA's web site, 23 are named as plaintiffs in the case2, together with members of the Harry Fox Agency, a licensing affiliate of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA). As well as filing against Audiogalaxy, RIAA named Audiogalaxy CEO Michael Mehrej in the suit.

The central allegation in the lawsuit is that Audiogalaxy:

"built, maintain, and control an integrated computer system and service ... that they knowingly, wilfully, and intentionally designed specifically to facilitate and encourage millions of individual anonymous users to copy and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works by the millions, if not billions".3

Well, why stop at billions? why not trillions? a googolplex perhaps? While the allegation is, in essence, accurate - depending on how convinced you are that Audiogalaxy's mission statement was to get the world swapping copyrighted material, or whether, as they started out doing, to allow artists to spread the word of their talent - it does rather seem like RIAA have finally hurled the toys out of the pram on this one. Reading on, we find that "Audiogalaxy's system and service is even more egregious4 than that of Napster" (by which they presumably mean it was more user-friendly and efficient than Napster), and that "Defendant's filtering process is no more efficient at filtering music than a fishnet is at filtering water". Ooooh, get you!

RIAA and Audiogalaxy had been working together for some time prior to the suit on filtering out copyrighted material, but it seems RIAA were unimpressed with the company's efforts. Having provided AG with, and this is where the scale and power of the RIAA starts to feel scary, "a CD-ROM containing over 985,600 artists names and track titles owned or controlled by its member companies", RIAA decided it wasn't getting enough respect from AG, which had merely "engaged in a series of half-hearted, ineffectual attempts to screen infringing copies of works", and hence the lawsuit.

In the light of the Napster case (not to mention other, ongoing, disputes), Audiogalaxy has probably acted wisely in settling early, even if it does mean a very uncertain future for the company, which is now asked to pay substantial compensation to RIAA, on behalf of its members.

However, as RIAA found post-napster...

R.I.P. Audiogalaxy? Maybe.
R.I.P. MP3 sharing? Not a chance.


Notes:

1. The suit filed is available as a PDF from, among other places, http://www.nmpa.org/pr/complaint.pdf

2. That list of plaintiffs in full:

3. RIAA (ex parte lots of their members) v Audiogalaxy and Michael S. Mehrej, page 2

4. For a possible explanation of egregious, consider the following, taken from page 18 of the lawsuit: "The Internet offers tremendous opportunities for the music business as well as for everyone who loves music...record companies, including plaintiffs...are creating exciting businesses to permit the public to take advantage of the opportunities that these new technologies make possible."

Hmm...so, that's "creating", and not "suing", or "shutting down"...


Useful Sources:
www.riaa.org
www.nmpa.org
http://www.riaa.com/PR_Story.cfm?id=520 (RIAA newsletter announcing filing)
http://www.riaa.com/PR_story.cfm?id=522 (RIAA newsletter announcing settlement)
www.cnet.com (has two recent news stories. Search for Audiogalaxy)
http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/6/21/171321/675 (an account of the company, by a former programmer)