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Court ruling another blow to file-swapping sites

Jan. 26, 2003


The future for file-swapping sites like KaZaA, Morpheus and Grokster looks more uncertain in the wake of a federal court ruling that may force an Internet provider to reveal the identity of a customer who downloaded a large number of copyrighted music files.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled last week that Internet provider Verizon must comply with a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that requires them to identify a subscriber suspected of violating copyright laws by downloading illegal music files on KaZaA.

The DMCA was signed into law in 1998 to provide copyright protection for works in digital formats. Last July, the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the nation's largest music companies, sought to use the law to get the identity of a KaZaA user suspected of downloading 600 illegal music files. Verizon refused to comply with a subpoena seeking the identify the user, citing a section of the DMCA that said it only had to comply with the subpoena if illegal files were stored on its computer servers.

In a peer-to-peer service like KaZaA, the music files are never held on Verizon's computers; the files are stored on one user's computer and transferred via the Internet to another user. Verizon is simply the connection that allows that transfer.

Verizon said forcing it to identify its subscriber would set a bad precedent. If allowed to proceed, it could mean that Internet providers could be forced to identify any user simply suspected of a copyright law violation. Verizon said the identify of a user shouldn't be revealed until that user has a chance to protest the subpoena in court.

Judge Bates' ruled that the DCMA applied to an Internet provider because they were part of the process of the illegal swapping of copyrighted materials. The judge noted that the DMCA lacked any mechanism to give suspected copyright violators the chance to protest a subpoena, though in his opinion such an option would undermine the DMCA.

The decision is being appealed, a spokesperson for Verizon said.

RIAA President Cary Sherman said that if the ruling stands, the RIAA will contact the user "so we can let them know that what they are doing is illegal."

UNDER FIRE. The Verizon ruling comes on the heels of another recent ruling against KaZaA that gives the U.S. entertainment industry the green light to sue them for copyright violations on U.S. soil.

Clearly both rulings have significant impact on the future of file swapping, though there's one thing the entertainment industry and the court system can't address: File-swapping's popularity continues to grow.

The number of Web pages devoted to file sharing have increased by more than 300 percent in the past 12 months, according to San Diego-based Websense. There are more than 130 software applications available to allow peer-to-peer file swapping, including the largest ones, KaZaA, Morpheus and Grokster.

Not only are the more people swapping files, but the content is becoming more diversified. The latest pop songs are still a big draw, but users are also looking for episodes of their favorite TV show, video game and software application.

More than 5 billion music files were downloaded from peer-to-peer networks last year, according to research firm The Yankee Group. Video game downloads topped 5 million last year according to Trymedia, a game developer. Movie downloads are thought to exceed a half a million copies per day.

A significant number of files are downloaded during normal business hours, where employees in many cases have access to broadband Internet connections.

According to Websense, file-swapping at the workplace wastes bandwidth and can expose a company to potential liability from the entertainment industry. The RIAA and Movie Producers Association of America gave notice last year to the nation's largest companies that corporations are responsible for files illegally downloaded by employees onto their networks.

TOP SPAM OF 2002. Some things are universal, and apparently, this includes junk e-mail or "spam."

A recent story posted on the BBC News Web site highlights how global -- and expensive -- the problem of spam has become.

Surf Control, a British spam-filtering firm, estimates the cost of spam to businesses around the world at nearly $9 billion. This figure includes time spent to delete the messages; the cost of larger e-mail servers and systems to cope with the increasing e-mails and the time spent dealing with spam by networking staff members.

The company has identified the Top 10 Most Annoying Spams of 2002, and the list is remarkable in that it closely mirrors my choices if I had prepared a similar list.

The list includes:

10. Copy DVDs in one click.
9. Meet singles in your area.
8. Get out of credit card debt.
7. The No.1 Pasta pot.
6. Best online casino.
5. Tiny remote control cars.
4. Nigerian scam.
3. Mortgage refinance.
2. Low price drugs (particularly Viagra).
1. Free adult site passwords.

EBAY TV. You may see more on television soon about the eBay auction site than just its commercials. The auction giant has signed a deal with Sony to produce EBay-TV, an hour-long eBay-inspired syndicated program.

The program will be in a magazine-style format that is described as a combination of "Entertainment Tonight" and "Antiques Roadshow." The show will highlight unique and unusual auction items and profile eBay buyers and sellers. The host of EBay-TV will be Molly Pesce, formerly of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

As part of the programming package, each TV station that carries the program will receive a station-branded auction Web site and earn a commission on items sold there. EBay will pay the stations $6 for every eBay member who joins the service through one of the TV station Web sites.

Look for EBay-TV to debut in the last half of the year.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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