America Online: No MP3, For Now

The word's largest Internet service provider has decided to forgo an MP3 search feature until it figures out how to distinguish legal recordings from illegal ones. America Online made the announcement August 11 after discovering that the feature, which it hoped would enhance its Winamp site, might encourage piracy of copyrighted recordings.

AOL had wanted to add a music-search function, but has postponed the project until a copyright-secure system can be developed. "Now that it's up, we see we don't have an efficient process for distinguishing between legal and illegal MP3s," said AOL spokesman Jim Whitney. "Until we figure out how to address this, we're going to take it down."

Whitney says his company made the decision without outside pressure. Earlier this year, AOL announced its intention to acquire media conglomerate Time Warner, parent company of the Warner Music Group, a litigant against both, the music uploading-and-archiving site, and Napster, the music-sharing site. Warner's interests in no way affected AOL's decision, Whitney emphasized.

Interestingly, AOL's Spinner division developed a Napster clone, Gnutella, which now exists as shareware because the original site where it was first posted was dismantled. A startup company in Troy, New York has developed a file-sharing software it calls Aimster, and which can be incorporated into AOL's Instant Messenger feature and used much the way Napster is used elsewhere. AOL disavows any connection with Aimster, but hasn't found a way to force these particular cats back into the bag.