RIAA targets Aimster with suit

Copyright infringement alleged; shades of Napster

After months of evading music-industry legal offensives of the sort that plagued Napster, file-sharing Netco Aimster has finally come under direct attack.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America, repping the five major label groups, has filed suit against the company in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging copyright infringement akin to that perpetrated by its peer-to-peer brethren.

“Aimster is Napster all over again,” said RIAA chief counsel Cary Sherman. “Beneath the added bells and whistles lies the same service that Napster provides.”

‘Buddy’ system

Aimster distributes software through its Web site, Aimster.com, that lets America Online members trade MP3s and other digital files, including video, through the AOL Instant Messenger service. Using the software, members can create mini file-sharing networks with private lists of instant-messaging “buddies.”

But the RIAA alleged that Aimster is not limited to buddy lists, nor even to AOL. In fact, Aimster users can search for and trade files of any type solely by using the software itself.

Sherman said that the RIAA had attempted to set up meetings with Aimster reps on two separate occasions in April but was stood up for both. After the second appointment, the company filed suit against the RIAA in District Court for the Northern District of New York (which includes Aimster’s hometown of Albany), seeking a preemptive declaration immunizing them from liability.

“The only apparent reason they agreed to meet with us at all was simply to delay matters while they prepared their lawsuit,” Sherman said.

Aimster co-founder Johnny Deep countered that he wasn’t aware of any meetings scheduled with the RIAA, adding that Aimster filed their suit on April 30 after they received a letter from the org demanding the removal of all infringing files within a week.

“The question is how do you balance free speech with copyright protection,” Deep said. “That’s going to have to be up to the court to decide.”

What’s in a name?

The legal action is the second piece of bad news to hit Aimster this week: the National Arbitration Forum, an Internet domain-name dispute resolution org, ruled that the company would have to turn over several domains, including Aimster.com, over to AOL because they violated the Internet conglom’s trademarks on its “AIM” instant messaging brand.