MP3.com bites back

A lawsuit asks if the litigious Recording Industry Association of America is sabotaging MP3.com's business.


Janelle Brown
February 9, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

It's no secret that the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA) is not a fan of the MP3 movement. The trade group
has slapped lawsuits on digital music-promoting companies such as Napster
and Diamond
Multimedia
and MP3.com; it has instituted a "Soundbyting"
campaign to inform college students that MP3 trading is illegal.
In short, the RIAA has been nothing less than ear-piercingly
vocal as it fights the burgeoning technology that it blames for
widespread music piracy on the Net.

But on Tuesday, the MP3 movement bit back: less than a month
after the RIAA slapped MP3.com with a lawsuit
for its new My.MP3.com service, Michael Robertson, CEO of
MP3.com, is alleging that Hillary Rosen, CEO of the RIAA, has
spent two years trying to sabotage his business. Why else,
Robertson asks would Rosen call analysts to discuss the impact of
a lawsuit on MP3.com's stock price, just days before the RIAA
filed suit against the company. "What goal was she trying to
achieve?" he muses.

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Phone calls to analysts are a rather cryptic example of unfair
business practices; but Robertson says that the RIAA also
pressured member companies such as Columbia House to pull
advertising from his site, told artists and their agents that
MP3.com was engaging in theft, and generally spread propaganda
that MP3s were illegal. "I'm hoping to stop their interference
with our course of business. It's not just analysts, but a course
of behavior that we believe has affected advertisers, managers of
artists and analysts," says Robertson.

Rosen contends that MP3.com is making allegations just to try to
silence her. In a statement,
she called the lawsuit "ridiculous." "This is a transparent
attempt on the part of MP3.com to silence criticism of its
infringing tactics. It won't work."

It may prove a silly game of tit-for-tat, but the new lawsuit
does pose some interesting questions. Has the RIAA achieved its
apparent goal of tainting the very word MP3 with a stench of
illegality? Has its public distaste for the MP3 movement, and
Robertson's business practices in particular, actually hurt
MP3.com's bottom line?

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To date, the RIAA has settled every suit it has filed. Of course,
the verdict is still out on the cases against Napster and
MP3.com's Beam-It, but Robertson is no longer content to sit back
and wait for potential vindication. "There's been enough bullying
on the playground: Eventually you want to call the teacher on the
bully and make it stop."


Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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