RIAA wins bid, shuts websites

WASHINGTON — The recording industry opened a new front against copyright piracy on Monday, firing the first salvo in its bid to protect music interests in the age of the Internet.

Federal judges in Texas and New York have shut down websites in those states for illegally distributing sound recordings over the Internet. The action was taken at the request of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which also is seeking to shut down a third site based in California.

The suits are the first filed by RIAA against World Wide Web pirates and are an effort by the music industry trade group to put current copyright law to the test in the context of the Internet. “As we embrace today’s newest technology — the Internet — it’s important to remember our values count, even in cyberspace,” RIAA prexy Hilary Rosen said.

Take and give

Visitors to the sites could download near-CD quality copies of songs that could immediately be played over a computer’s speakers, according to the RIAA. All the sites asked in return, according to the RIAA, is that anyone who illegally downloaded a song also would illegally upload a different selection of music.

Because of the exponential growth of the Internet and dramatic increases in the speed of computers and Internet access, the RIAA claims that web piracy poses a much larger threat to industry revenues than traditional piracy. So far, the RIAA has no estimates on revenue lost to Internet piracy, according to Frank Creighton, vice president, associate director, anti-piracy.

The temporary restraining orders are being pursued just as the Clinton administration is about to propose its official policy on copyright law in the digital age. The RIAA and other content providers insist that laws that were developed to protect copyrights in the era of the printing press will hold up as society and industry enters the information age. “This is just another format and the same laws apply,” Creighton said Monday.

Looking for shelter

But telcos and Internet service providers such as America Online worry that they will be liable for actions by copyright pirates who use their networks to distribute infringed work. They are heavily lobbying the Clinton administration to provide them with some kind of digital indemnity.

In the lawsuits filed Monday, the RIAA does not name any Internet providers, focusing only on the operators of the sites themselves. Creighton said the fight about third-party liability will be resolved in future litigation. For now, the RIAA just wants to warn Web pirates that copyright infringement over the Internet can be just as costly as building a clandestine CD factory. Under current law, individuals can be fined up to $100,000 for each infringed work.

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