Paul McCartney's Publishing Company Sues MP3.com

The legal molasses in which MP3.com is mired got thicker and deeper in mid-March, when MPL Communications launched a lawsuit against the Internet music company. MPL, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney's publishing house, joined the attack begun months ago by the Recording Industries Association of America. McCartney's firm filed suit in a New York US District Court against the San Diego–based startup over copyrights on intellectual properties owned by MPL, whose catalog includes McCartney's solo work, as well as the works of Buddy Holly, Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Cahn, and other songwriters and performers. MPL was joined in the suit by Peer International, which owns the work of the late Latina star Selena.

MP3.com provides an archiving service for its members, who can upload their favorite songs to a server computer and then access them from any Internet-connected computer, thereby saving themselves the necessity of carrying player, headphones, and discs with them. Members are supposed to have purchased the discs they wish to archive, but are not required to prove their ownership. MP3.com has archived more than 80,000 recordings, according to the Reuters news service.

The legal move against MP3.com is "the first lawsuit undertaken by independent publishing companies," according to McCartney spokesman Paul Freunlich. Other labels and publishers may follow. McCartney isn't personally involved in the litigation, but his association with the plaintiff raises the ante in the anti-piracy crusade.

MPL's action was welcomed by the music industry, but at least one law professor looked askance at the thrust of the action, pointing out that such litigation could hinder the development of new technology. "The danger of lawsuits like these is that [they] attempt to control and shape the development of technology to serve an existing business model," said New York University law professor Yochin Benkler. "The business models need to change to fit the technology, not the other way around." Benkler claims the fact that music can be copied illegally is a "side effect" of MP3.com's database, not its intended purpose. MP3.com officials and attorneys would not comment on the case.

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