Court refuses to halt sale of digital-music player

Thursday, October 29, 1998

Recording Industry Association of America officials say they will appeal Monday's court decision that permits the sale of a portable music device that can download and play CD-quality recordings from the Internet.

U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins refused to grant the recording-industry group an injunction blocking sales of the device until she could rule on the lawsuit.

Collin's decision leaves Diamond Multimedia free to sell the Rio, a hand-held digital device that downloads and plays music in a popular compression format called MP3.

“Today's ruling is a clear victory for music fans around the world,” said Bob Kohn, chairman of GoodNoise, the largest legal distributor of music on the Internet. “Digital music provide by new companies like GoodNoise will give consumers access to music the way they want it.”

RIAA officials contend that production of the player violates the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, which grants manufacturers and distributors of recording devices limited immunity against copyright infringement if they follow a few guidelines. Specifically, they are required to pay a small royalty, about 2% of sales, to artists affected by unauthorized copying and to register their devices with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Developers of Rio and owners of MP3 sites say the device doesn't record music but merely downloads the music so it can be played without the use of a computer.

Collins had initially granted the recording-industry group a 10-day restraining order against Diamond Multimedia. On Monday, she said the group's lawyers may have shown the Rio to be a recording device.

But Collins declined to grant an injunction, saying the RIAA failed to show how the Rio specifically violates the Audio Home Recording Act.

RIAA spokeswoman Alexandra Walsh said the ruling offered a positive step because the judge “deemed that the device was a recording device.” But Walsh said the RIAA decided to appeal because the ruling didn't deal with how the Rio would spark more online music piracy.

While the RIAA doesn't think the MP3 format should be illegal, Walsh said many people abuse the technology by offering pirated versions of popular songs.

“We're trying to protect creative content online,” Walsh said. “MP3 has the potential for wonderful uses as well as bad uses. It's great for emerging artists who are unsigned and want to be distributed. But that's not what we're concerned about. We're concerned about the hundreds and hundreds of artists whose work is being stolen.”