The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed a copyright infringement suit against the Napster-like file-sharing service Aimster yesterday in a U.S. District Court in New York. The suit resembles the RIAA's litigation against Napster in that four of the five the major labels -- Vivendi Universal's Universal Music, Sony Music, EMI Group and Bertelsmann BMG -- are seeking an injunction to stop the transfer of the copyrighted material they own. Time Warner AOL filed its own similar suit against Aimster.
According to Aimster, its file-sharing application differs from that of Napster in a significant way: Aimster piggybacks onto America Online's Instant Messenger Service, allowing users to trade files only with other users on the service, thereby limiting access of files to specific members versus Napster, which made files available to anyone online. While Aimster also allows users to search and swap MP3s and digital pictures, it sets itself apart from Napster in that it was designed to allow businesses to create private networks over which they could trade files for work purposes.
"The difference between Napster and Aimster is that Aimster is modeled on the same things already customary and standard in networking," says Aimster founder John Deep. "So AOL networking service has instant messenging -- Microsoft networking has the same features as that. We do the same things as those networking services. The difference with us is that we're free and we're easy and we're safe because we're private. We're not a music-sharing community; we've never said that we encourage people to share music and violate copyright. We don't say that anymore than Microsoft does or AOL does."
"Simply not true," says the RIAA's Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel Cary Sherman. "The fact is that you don't have to have a single buddy in order to gain access to everybody else's copy of music. So it functions exactly like Napster. They're making exactly the same argument that Napster made. 'We're simply providing a network. We have no control over how users use the network. We're just like AOL.' The courts found otherwise, and I think the courts will find otherwise with respect to Aimster as well."
Last month, after receiving a cease and desist letter from the RIAA, Aimster sought a declaratory judgement from the court to determine the legality of its file-sharing service. A court date for May 30th has been set for both parties to discuss the issues.