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AOL, Record Labels Sue File-Sharing Aimster

The entertainment industry forged ahead in its quest to squash alleged piracy on the Web on Thursday as major music companies and several divisions of AOL Time Warner Inc filed copyright infringement suits against file-sharing service Aimster.

Both of the suits launched against Aimster on Thursday were filed in a Manhattan federal court, with one being lodged on behalf of major record labels such as Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Sony Music, EMI Group Plc and Bertelsmann AG’s BMG.

Recording industry sources said another lawsuit was filed against Launch Media Inc targeting the company’s Launchcast service for copyright violations.

Officials from Launch were not immediately available for comment late Thursday.

Aimster is a Napster-like program that piggybacks on an instant messaging service run by AOL, the No. 1 Internet services company.

The second suit against Aimster was filed on behalf of several divisions of AOL Time Warner, including Warner Music, New Line Cinema and Atlantic Records, according to court documents.

Johnny Deep, chief executive officer of Aimster, said he had not yet seen the legal filings but was surprised the complaint was filed in Manhattan since Aimster had filed its own lawsuit against the recording industry earlier this month in federal court in Albany, New York.

Sources said AOL Time Warner, home to Warner Music, chose not to join the recording industry lawsuit against Aimster because it felt the service was a threat to content involving a number of its businesses, including its music and movie operations, the sources said.

The lawsuits underscore the determination of Hollywood and the music business to protect their content in the wake of the big labels’ legal victory in obtaining a court injunction in March against Napster, which lets users swap songs for free.

“Aimster is just like Napster. The big difference between the two is that Aimster also allows you to get movies, software and pictures,” said Matt Oppenheim, senior vice president of business, legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a music industry trade group.

Oppenheim said the legal action in New York will seek a Napster-like injunction to bar Aimster users from trading in copyrighted materials.


The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which has already joined forces with the music industry in another lawsuit against file-sharing community Scour Inc., said it was considering its options.

“We are aware of Aimster and we’re looking at all available options,” said a spokeswoman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

In its suit against the recording industry, Aimster earlier this month asked a federal court in Albany for a declaratory judgement stating it was not infringing on copyrights. Aimster filed the suit because it had received a “cease and desist” letter from the RIAA.

Oppenheim said the RIAA tried to meet with Aimster, but that Aimster had canceled several times.

“We wanted to sit down with Aimster and try to come up with a resolution of this matter without litigation,” Oppenheim said.

“The courts have already made clear that this kind of service will not be tolerated. The fact that Aimster canceled meetings with us and then filed a lawsuit was very disappointing,” Oppenheim said.

Aimster has hired the law firm of Boies, Schiller and Flexner, headed by top lawyer David Boies, who is representing Napster in its case.

Deep has contended any attempt to monitor Aimster’s members would itself be a violation of federal copyright law and users’ privacy since it has encrypted transmissions on its network.

He has said Aimster is better insulated from lawsuits than a fully open file-swapping service like Napster, because users have more control over files since they share only with people designated on instant messaging “buddy lists.”

But Oppenheim said this was false. “The service that Aimster provides is exactly the same as Napster, contrary to what they have been saying.”

“Aimster users do not need to have ‘buddies’ in order to download content. Just like Napster, you can use a centralized index to obtain any content you want,” he said.

Deep said if people trade with others who are not “buddies” they are violating the terms of Aimster, but then added the company was unable to control its users’ activities.

“It’s like the post office. They frown on people spamming strangers with junk mail, but they cannot do anything to prevent it,” Deep said.

Earlier this week, Aimster said it would appeal a National Arbitration Forum panel decision ordering it to give up its domain names to AOL Time Warner after finding they violated AOL’s trademark on its instant messenger service, which goes by the acronym AIM.

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