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Record Industry Sues Morpheus And Other Decentralized File-Sharing Services

Striking another blow in its fight against unauthorized music downloads, the record industry on Tuesday sued Morpheus, Kazaa and Grokster, three of the services music fans have used to trade files over the Web since the shutdown of Napster.

“We cannot sit idly by while these services continue to operate illegally, especially at a time when new legitimate services are being launched,” Recording Industry Association of America president and CEO Hilary Rosen said in a statement. Each of the five major record companies is backing either MusicNet or Pressplay, two services that are promising to offer subscription downloading services by year’s end.

The three companies sued on Tuesday all use the same technology. Kazaa is operated by Amsterdam-based Consumer Empowerment BV, also known as FastTrack, which developed the peer-to-peer technology that allows users to find and trade files directly with each other without going through a centralized server, as Napster had used.

Morpheus, owned by the Nashville company MusicCity, and West Indies-based Grokster also use the FastTrack technology. Users of any of the three services have access to all online FastTrack registrants.

Morpheus, Kazaa and Grokster grew in popularity in the spring when Napster’s offerings dwindled and finally vanished. Napster shut down in July as a result of an RIAA lawsuit. The company used a centralized server to provide users with a list of available files, something that neither FastTrack nor the similar Gnutella network does.

The Motion Picture Association of America is also a plaintiff in the suit, which accuses the companies of facilitating and profiting from the trading of copyrighted music and movies. Although the services don’t sell files for downloading, they do sell advertising.

A spokesperson for MusicCity said his company was still examining the lawsuit and had no immediate comment. Spokespersons for Kazaa and Grokster were unavailable by press time.

In an interview shortly before the lawsuit was filed, MusicCity director of sales and marketing Trey Bowles said more than 23 million copies of Morpheus have been downloaded since it launched in April.

“We don’t promote or condone the transfer of illegal copyrighted material,” Bowles said, adding that he didn’t know how much trading with Morpheus involves music files. “If we could tell you that, we’d be Napster.”

Even if Morpheus, Grokster and Kazaa were to shut down, the network of users who’ve already downloaded the software would go on, according to digital-music analyst Aram Sinnreich of Jupiter Media Matrix. “I don’t think those companies will stick around,” Sinnreich said Tuesday, “but there will be perpetual access to file sharing.”

FastTrack is similar to Gnutella, which also allows users to trade files directly without going through a central server. So far, the RIAA has not taken action against LimeWire, BearShare or any other services that use the Gnutella network, and an RIAA spokesperson would not comment Wednesday (October 3) on the possibility of future lawsuits.

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