Published Jan 01, 2006The latest salvo in the file-sharing wars has been launched by Kazaa in a semi-desperate attempt to avoid being Napstered. In response to a law suit against the file-sharing software company by major record labels, Kazaa's owners, Sharman Networks, have filed a counter-suit, alleging the film and music industries are "monopolising" entertainment by controlling distribution and not cutting digital licensing deals.
"This is part of what is going to be a very longstanding battle between Kazaa and the recording industry," explains University of Ottawa internet law guru Michael Geist. He points out that Kazaa uses a distributed peer-to-peer file-sharing system and has a complex legal structure, making any judgement difficult to enforce, and that Napster raised a similar anti-trust argument which, albeit unsuccessful, was met with some receptiveness.
The new counter-suit, however, doesn't directly impact the original lawsuit against Kazaa for providing free access to copyrighted music and movies. "There may be an element of people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. So if they were successful, it would do some damage to the recording industry's arguments," Geist says. "The lawsuit against Kazaa is grounded in different copyright principles, but it certainly does complicate the matter and I think it's a legal strategy to put the recording industry on the legal defensive."
Kazaa has recently put out a new version of its software designed to increase the return on licensed material available through its legitimate wing, Altnet. "The argument against Kazaa was that it said hey, we're trying to be legal but nobody wants to use Altnet,' yet when you did a search you got back five Altnet products and a million free ones," says University of Toronto internet legal expert Richard Owens. "Yet if they're showing a trend of becoming more friendly to licensed material and trying to increase proportions, it's not going to hurt. It's probably too little too late, but it's not going to hurt."
But Owens believes that no amount of legal wrangling in the world will be able to put a halt to online file-sharing at this point and that confrontation won't work. "Ultimately, [the music industry] must bend like the willow and adapt to its challenges, its challengers, and figure out a way to reconcile business strategy with the new environment. If it doesn't do that, its dead."