RIAA Files Suits To Halt Sale Of Portable MP3 Player

In what may be a case of a too little, too late response to the rise in popularity of MP3 players and sound files, the Recording Industry Association of America has filed a motion to halt the sale of a controversial new MP3 device before it hits the market.

The RIAA has moved to block the sale and distribution of the Rio PMP300 portable MP3 player from Diamond Multimedia, which was set to go on sale at the end of the month and retail for around $200.

The Rio can store up to 60 minutes of CD quality music and up to 12 hours of voice recording audio from the Internet or a CD using MP3 compression. The RIAA believes that such capabilities violate certain aspects of the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act -- a law designed to address the digital pirating of copyrighted material.

More specifically, the RIAA claims that Diamond has not made arrangements to pay royalty fees to cover money the industry loses on unauthorized copies and that the Rio hasn't been modified so as

to be unable to make second generation copies of its stored sound files.

"The RIAA has been concerned about the recent development of MP3 recording devices," the organization stated in a release announcing the suit, "because they capitalize on and are likely to exacerbate the problem of illegal MP3 files."

"The AHRA covers a device 'which is designed or marketed for the primary purpose of, and that is capable of, making a digital audio copied recording for private use,'" the statement adds, "Rio reproduces MP3 music files from a computer hard drive to the memory of the MP3 recorder. This is the primary purpose for which it was designed and marketed."

For its part, Diamond defends the Rio as simply for playback and storage purposes, and not as a recording device as the RIAA asserts. Diamond also takes issue with the association's belief that the portable player will be used to widely disseminate illegal, unauthorized copies, and in its own statement claims that "the

majority of traffic in MP3 is legal," and has been licensed from the artist.

"It appears that the RIAA's lawsuit against Diamond is being driven by the interests of its largest members," Diamond's statement reads, "the big five record labels, who are seeking to maintain their control of music distribution."

Caught in the middle of the dispute are such Internet music companies such as GoodNoise, which plans to market thousands of legally licensed MP3 songs and recently offered Frank Black's new album, "Frank Black and the Catholics," for sale through the Internet via MP3.

"We feel that the RIAA is right to target illicit sound files," commented Steve Grady, GoodNoise's vice president of corporate communications, "but not the technology itself. This is all about the industry's fear of change, change in the infrastructure of how music reaches listeners. The ultimate solution for MP3 [files and players] lies in addressing the problem through innovative marketing techniques."

The RIAA and Diamond Multimedia will make their cases before a judge this Friday, when a district court in Los Angeles is scheduled to hold a hearing on the injunction.