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Keeping track of the digital-music industry’s lawsuits, countersuits, mergers and implosions is a bewildering task. While smaller players have been treading water and waiting for the shake-out to pass them by, bigger fish are poised to strike, picking off the tastiest morsels one by one, either by buying them outright or keeping them off-balance with one lawsuit after another. On Monday, we saw two developments that illustrate the direction the industry is taking: Sony and Universal announced that the music subscription service formerly known as “Duet” will now be known as “Pressplay” and will be headed by Andy Schuon, formerly of Farmclub.com. Meanwhile, online music provider Listen.com agreed to drop its lawsuit against the Recording Industry Association of America. And that was just in one day. Let’s pause and take a breath here at the halfway point of 2001 and glance back at the past six months. At the beginning of the year, Napster was the headline-hogger, having hooked up with Bertelsmann. The excrement really hit the fan in mid-February, when a federal appeals court ruled that Napster was, in fact, legally responsible for the copyright infringement of its users, at least to the extent that the company knew about those actions. Thus, users downloaded a few hundred million songs in just 48 hours, rightfully assuming that the free music gravy train was about to leave the station. Enter Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who described his “gnawing concern that this legal victory for the record labels may prove Pyrrhic and shortsighted from a policy perspective.” (For those of you sleeping through class, “Pyrrhic” is defined by the battered paperback dictionary I keep under my desk as “a victory gained at too great a cost, like that of Pyrrhus over the Romans in 279 B.C.”) Hatch followed through on his springtime promise to convene Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on digital music in early April, an event which brought us words of wisdom from Alanis Morissette (“so-called piracy may be working in most artists’ favor”), the Recording Industry Association of America’s Hilary Rosen (“America’s record labels are proud to be in the forefront at this time”) and Hatch (“Help the committees, because we don’t know what to do”). Apparently, that plea for help didn’t fall on deaf ears; the major labels followed that hearing with some grandiose announcements in April. First, we had the RealNetworks/EMI/BMG/Warner Bros. promise of a subscription service dubbed MusicNet, which has a projected release date of late summer. (Fast forwarding to the present, Napster announced an agreement last week to become a MusicNet affiliate, providing, of course, that “Napster is operating in a legal, non-infringing manner and has successfully deployed a technology that accurately tracks the identity of files on the service.”) We also got word that Viacom’s MTVi and technology infrastructure company RioPort would be offering their own streaming/digital-download service in conjunction with all five of the major labels. Oh yes, and not to be left out, Microsoft issued a statement, saying that it’d be getting into the digital music space, too. So there. Meanwhile, Napster continued to get spanked, with U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the Northern District of California calling the company’s efforts to block unauthorized music trading “disgraceful” in a mid-April hearing; lickety-split, Napster announced it had acquired the file-identification technology of Gigabeat, following that with deals with music database firm Gracenote.com and digital-fingerprinting firm Relatable, to help it better block copyrighted songs from its database. Webnoize reports that since February, the average number of files shared per person using Napster dropped 90 percent. Then last month, hoping to take advantage of the rudderless hordes of Napster aficionados, Vivendi Universal purchased MP3.com for $372 million, to presumably give it a leg up on the competition. In the meantime, the RIAA has been a busy little bee, flitting from one courtroom to another all spring. A few highlights from the litigious hit parade: April showers brought a lawsuit against the RIAA from file-swapping service Aimster, which asked a judge to rule pre-emptively that the company wasn’t responsible for its users’ copyright infringement. May flowers brought a suit against Aimster from the RIAA, basically saying that the service does aid copyright infringement and shouldn’t. Also in May, the RIAA announced it had sent more than 10,000 notices charging university and commercial Web sites with pirating music. That didn’t count the letter it sent to Princeton University professor Edward Felten in mid-April threatening “enforcement actions” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if his team published a paper explaining how it had cracked the codes developed by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). Felten subsequently didn’t publish, but last week the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit on his behalf against the SDMI and the RIAA. Somewhere in the midst of all this, some companies were acquired, more than a few went belly-up, and oodles of people were laid off. But rest assured, for lawyers who specialize in copyright law as it pertains to digital music, these are the best of times indeed. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: Pressplay’s Press Play Duet Gets a New Name Napster-MusicNet Deal Is a Real Help Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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