P2Ps Turn Tables on RIAA, Allege Patent Infringement

As it has been suing thousands of computer users accused of illegallytrading copyrighted music online with peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, theRecording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has also been pollutingP2P networks with bogus and corrupted media files to discourage P2P use.

Now the industry group is the one being sued for alleged patentinfringement in its process of so-called “spoofing” on filesharingnetworks. A civil case has been brought against the RIAA by P2P providers Altnet and its parentBrilliant Digital Entertainment, which own the popular Kazaa P2Pnetwork.

In a suit filed in California this week, Altnet argues the RIAAbreached 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 filesharing that benefits copyright holders, which Altnet advocates, andthereby has injured its business,” said a statement from Altnet.

An RIAA spokeperson told TechNewsWorld that the industry group’s lawyers arestill looking into the suit initially. The group denied theinfringement claims, which come after failed efforts toward acompromise, according to Altnet.

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

Measuring Spoofing

Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Goodman told TechNewsWorld there is nospecific metric to measure how much spoofing the RIAA does on P2Pnetworks, but he added that it occurs quite a bit. Goodman called spoofingthe RIAA’s second biggest weapon against P2P, after the RIAA lawsuitsagainst users, which began last year.

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

“That adds up to a lot of instances of patent violation,” Jaffe said ina statement. “The defendants have had the opportunity to work closelywith us to innovate and improve the overall content experience for filesharers, yet they choose to send users damaged files that eroderelationships between artists, bands, and their fans.”

Basis For Claim

Goodman said while the courts will have to determine whether or notpatents have been infringed, there is a basis for the complaint fromAltnet, which has tried repeatedly to work with the RIAA and recordlabels.

“Anything that makes P2P networks inefficient will hurt Altnet’sbusiness,” Goodman said. “Anything that drives users from Kazaa hurtsthe Altnet network.”

Goodman added that there are legitimate uses of P2P technology, which insome cases is similar to a simple copy machine at the office. The U.S.9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled recently that there arelegimiate uses of P2P file sharing applications and networks, freeingP2P operators from liability for copyright infringement.

However, proposed legislation currently in the U.S. Congress would makeit illegal to carry large amounts of copyrighted material over a P2Pnetwork.

Chided For Chutzpah

While the RIAA had yet to legally respond to the Altnet charges, theorganization’s president, Cary Sherman, who is named in the civil suit, denied anypatent infringement in a statement.

“For these plaintiffs to complain about infringement of theirintellectual 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 abig tool in its push against P2P and would end up looking “no betterthan people who [illegally] download files.”

Irony for Industry

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

“It’s ironic that the RIAA, in trying to stop copyright violations, hasbeen using techniques that apparently violate patent rights,” saidattorney Tom Lewry of Brooks Kushman. “It is one thing for the RIAA tostop infringement by enforcing copyrights. But its current tactics,which include corrupting peer-to-peer networks, should be stopped. Suchtactics disrupt legitimate uses of the networks to share public domaininformation.

“Perhaps Altnet’s suit will discourage such abuses,” Lewry added.

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