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P2Ps Turn Tables on RIAA, Allege Patent Infringement

By Jay Lyman
Sep 10, 2004 10:00 AM PT

As it has been suing thousands of computer users accused of illegally trading copyrighted music online with peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has also been polluting P2P networks with bogus and corrupted media files to discourage P2P use.

P2Ps Turn Tables on RIAA, Allege Patent Infringement

Now the industry group is the one being sued for alleged patent infringement in its process of so-called "spoofing" on filesharing networks. A civil case has been brought against the RIAA by P2P providers Altnet and its parent Brilliant Digital Entertainment, which own the popular Kazaa P2P network.

In a suit filed in California this week, Altnet argues the RIAA breached its 2002 patent on "TrueNames" technology, adding Overpeer, Loudeye and Media Sentry to the list of alleged infringers.

Interference Infringes

"Altnet alleges this has inhibited the growth of P2P for legitimate file sharing that benefits copyright holders, which Altnet advocates, and thereby has injured its business," said a statement from Altnet.

An RIAA spokeperson told TechNewsWorld that the industry group's lawyers are still looking into the suit initially. The group denied the infringement claims, which come after failed efforts toward a compromise, according to Altnet.

Altnet said its suit is focused on a specific, patented algorithm that permits the unique naming of files across P2P networks.

Measuring Spoofing

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld there is no specific metric to measure how much spoofing the RIAA does on P2P networks, but he added that it occurs quite a bit. Goodman called spoofing the RIAA's second biggest weapon against P2P, after the RIAA lawsuits against users, which began last year.

Alnet president Lee Jaffe said Overpeer, which works with the RIAA in spoofing songs on P2P networks, claims it spoofs as many as 200 million files per month.

"That adds up to a lot of instances of patent violation," Jaffe said in a statement. "The defendants have had the opportunity to work closely with us to innovate and improve the overall content experience for file sharers, yet they choose to send users damaged files that erode relationships between artists, bands, and their fans."

Basis For Claim

Goodman said while the courts will have to determine whether or not patents have been infringed, there is a basis for the complaint from Altnet, which has tried repeatedly to work with the RIAA and record labels.

"Anything that makes P2P networks inefficient will hurt Altnet's business," Goodman said. "Anything that drives users from Kazaa hurts the Altnet network."

Goodman added that there are legitimate uses of P2P technology, which in some cases is similar to a simple copy machine at the office. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled recently that there are legimiate uses of P2P file sharing applications and networks, freeing P2P operators from liability for copyright infringement.

However, proposed legislation currently in the U.S. Congress would make it illegal to carry large amounts of copyrighted material over a P2P network.

Chided For Chutzpah

While the RIAA had yet to legally respond to the Altnet charges, the organization's president, Cary Sherman, who is named in the civil suit, denied any patent infringement in a statement.

"For these plaintiffs to complain about infringement of their intellectual property is not merely ironic," said Sherman. "It is an act of incredible chutzpah. Their claims are dead wrong."

However, Goodman said if the RIAA were to lose its case, it would lose a big tool in its push against P2P and would end up looking "no better than people who [illegally] download files."

Irony for Industry

The irony of the infringement suit against the RIAA was also highlighted by an attorney for a Michigan college student who is among those being sued by the recording industry.

"It's ironic that the RIAA, in trying to stop copyright violations, has been using techniques that apparently violate patent rights," said attorney Tom Lewry of Brooks Kushman. "It is one thing for the RIAA to stop infringement by enforcing copyrights. But its current tactics, which include corrupting peer-to-peer networks, should be stopped. Such tactics disrupt legitimate uses of the networks to share public domain information.

"Perhaps Altnet's suit will discourage such abuses," Lewry added.

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