The Recording Industry Association of America said on Tuesday (Dec. 7) that it has filed a lawsuit against the makers of the MP3-trading program Napster, accusing them of "operating a haven for music piracy on an unprecedented scale."
"Napster is about facilitating piracy and trying to build a business on the backs of artists and copyright holders," RIAA senior vice president Cary Sherman said in a statement.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the program of contributing to copyright infringement. Napster links its users' MP3 libraries, which are stored on their computers.
"Napster is similar to a giant online pirate bazaar ... [it] provides its users with ... means to engage in massive copyright infringement," the lawsuit alleges, according to the RIAA statement.
Napster's chief executive officer, Eileen Richardson, denied Tuesday that the program is meant to encourage piracy. She said that the company's main goal is to use Napster's technology to help spread music by unknown artists.
Named for the nappy hair of the Napster software's 18-year-old creator, Shawn Fanning, Napster allows its users to download MP3 files from other users' computers.
When a user fires up the Napster software while connected to the Internet, computers at the company's headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., automatically look at the MP3s on that person's hard drive. By default, Napster then makes those MP3s available to other users.
"There's no chance that if an artist doesn't want their music on the Internet, that we want to put it there. Absolutely, positively not," Richardson said.
In other statements released Tuesday by the RIAA, artists and managers accused Napster of doing just that.
"I couldn't believe it when I found out that this Napster was linking thousands of people to the new Notorious B.I.G. album, Born Again, a week before it even hit the streets," rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy) said in one of those statements.
A search using Napster on Tuesday evening revealed multiple copies of songs from Born Again were available for download from users' hard drives.
"When my music is given away, as taboo as it is for me to say, it is stealing. ... My music is like my home. Napster is sneaking in the back door and robbing me blind," Scott Stapp, lead singer for multiplatinum rockers Creed, said in another statement.
Numerous Creed songs also were available for download Tuesday evening using Napster, including the band's hit "My Own Prison" (RealAudio excerpt).
Richardson said her company had been negotiating with the RIAA. But she said the association wasn't giving her the information she needed to cooperate.
"It would be nice if the recording industry would work with us, instead of against us. We've asked them, begged them, for a list of artists that don't want their music on the Internet they will not, and cannot, produce it," Richardson said.
The list could be a lengthy one: By law, no one has the right to distribute copyrighted music unless given permission by its copyright holder, which, in the music business, is usually the artist or label. Representatives from the RIAA were not available to respond to Richardson's comments at press time.
Kristin Thomson, guitarist for rockers Tsunami, said Tuesday that she wasn't overly concerned about piracy.
Thomson, who recently founded the Machine (www.insound.com/machine), a website designed to give artists information about using the Internet to promote their music, also questioned the priorities of the RIAA in the lawsuit.
"They're saying piracy is attacking artists' rights. I don't know how much of their fight is in order to protect the artist or to protect the value of the content the major label owns," she said.
The recording industry has long been leery of the MP3 compression format, which allows songs to be transferred across the Internet in near-CD-quality but with no built-in copyright protection.
In October 1998, the RIAA sued to keep Diamond Multimedia's Walkman-like Rio MP3 player off store shelves. That suit was settled out of court in August for an undisclosed sum, allowing the player to be distributed. (SonicNet's parent company, MTV Networks Online, owns a portion of Rio developer RioPort.)
(Staff Writer Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)