U.S. Lawmaker Wants to Legalize MP3

If U.S. Representative Rick Boucher has his way, services like MP3.com Inc.'s My.MP3.com will be legally untouchable.

Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia, on Monday introduced in the House of Representatives a bill called the Music Owners' Listening Rights Act (H.R. 5225) that would amend the copyright section of U.S. law so that consumers can store music libraries on remote computers and listen to music over the Internet, provided that the user proves they legally own the music they want to hear.

In introducing the bill on the House floor, Boucher said that such a law was necessary to address "the growing chasm between new technology and old laws."

"We believe that the technology which gives rise to this new convenience should be encouraged," Boucher said, "and our legislation will remove legacy copyright restrictions which were written for a different era and that threaten to strangle the technology in its infancy."

The amendment seems aimed specifically at legalizing My.MP3.com, the remote listening service offered by MP3.com, which has been the source of persistent legal troubles for the company. My.MP3.com allows users to create a music library housed at MP3.com's servers by inserting CDs into their computers and accessing MP3.com's Web site. The company then verifies that the CD is in the drive and makes the songs on the disc available to the user from any computer with an Internet connection.

The service led the five major record labels to sue MP3.com for copyright infringement. Although the company reached a settlement with four of the labels, to the tune of US$20 million each, it was unable to do so with the Universal Music Group Inc. Universal won a court decision against the company in early September with damages that could top $118 million. MP3.com has since reactivated the service without including Universal's music.

In response to the proposed amendment, the Recording Industry Association of America Inc., an industry group that represents the major labels, sent a letter to members of Congress saying that the bill would "deprive artists and songwriters of royalties."

The letter called the service "grossly unfair" and maintained, as Universal did in court, that MP3.com had infringed copyright by offering CDs without the companies' permission, despite the CDs having been purchased legally.

It is unlikely that the issue will be resolved during this congressional term, which is scheduled to end in early October. However, when Congress reconvenes in late January, Internet issues, including the copyright concerns raised by services such as Napster Inc. and MP3.com, seem sure to be hot topics.

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