Lawsuit Extends Controversy Over MP3 Format

The maker of a database used to search MP3 files is facing a lawsuit from a London-based recording industry group.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry this week sued Oslo, Norway-based Fast Search & Transfer ASA in what is the latest battle between the music industry and proponents of the emerging format. The Motion Picture Experts Group, Audio Layer 3, as MP3 is formally known, allows CD-quality audio to be tightly compressed for faster transmission over the Internet.

The format is rapidly picking up support from independent artists and others in the music industry, although record companies and groups representing the recording industry are fighting its spread for fear that MP3 files will lead to an increase in piracy.

Fast Search & Transfer in February launched a searachable database containing more than 500,000 MP3 files. The technology has been licensed by search engine Lycos Inc. which now claims to have the world’s largest MP3 site.

The federation said the FAST search engine encourages piracy by storing direct links to all downloadable MP3 files in a database. The company said FAST’s initiatives will hurt indepdent artists and smaller record labels looking to legitimately use the format.

Neither Lycos nor Fast Search & Transfer would comment on the lawsuit.

The key question in the case, legal experts say, is whether the IFPI will be able to prove the site was designed solely to make it easier to unlawfully access copyrighted material and facilitate distribution. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that new technology cannot be outlawed simply because pirates might use it to infringe on copyrights.

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