Court Says Aimster Must Remain Shut

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that file-swapping site Aimster must remain shuttered while it battles against copyright infringement lawsuits filed by the major music labels.

Monday’s decision affirmed a preliminary injunction issued by a lower court in December mandating that Aimster immediately disconnect any computers or services used in connection with file swapping.

Johnny Deep, the site’s principal owner, appealed the December ruling, but the court Monday said Aimster failed to show its peer-to-peer (P2P) network could be used for lawful means.

“Far from doing anything to discourage repeat infringers of the plaintiffs’ copyrights, Aimster invited them to do so, showed them how they could do so with ease using its system,” the court wrote, “and by teaching its users how to encrypt their unlawful distribution of copyrighted materials, disabled itself from doing anything to prevent infringement.”

In April, a Los Angeles federal judge dismissed a suit brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the principal trade group of the music industry, against popular P2P networks Grokster and Morpheus, saying the sites can not control how people use their software, which could also have legitimate applications.

In that case, the court cited the landmark Sony Betamax case of 1984, where the Hollywood studies tried to outlaw VCRs but ran into a Supreme Court ruling that said use of new technology to infringe copyrights did not justify an outright ban on that technology.

In Deep’s case, however, the court said Aimster, which changed its name to Madster after America Online complained of the similarity with AOL’s instant messenger (AIM) service, never provided evidence of non-infringing uses.

Not surprisingly, the RIAA hailed the decision.

“A peer-to-peer service is not off the hook simply because it claims there may be legitimate uses of its network. When these types of services exist primarily as a vehicle for copyright infringement, they have an obligation to try and reduce the illegal activity occurring on their networks,” said Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which sided with Aimster, said in a prepared statement, “Just as the inventors of the photocopier and the VCR, today’s innovators should be free to produce useful products without fear of being sued simply because some people may misuse their products to commit copyright infringement. By narrowing the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the Sony Betamax case, this decision will chill technology developers of all stripes.”

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