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Battle flares over digital music

The RIAA claims a Diamond Multimedia product makes illegal copies, but the latter says its Rio device is not covered by legislation.

The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) struggle against pirated Internet music intensified earlier this week after Silicon Valley high tech firm Diamond Multimedia fired back against the industry lobbying body that sued Diamond last Friday.

In a court statement Tuesday, Diamond denied it had broken laws, as alleged by the RIAA, and instead accused the RIAA of filing the lawsuit out of fear.

"[The RIAA is] scared this is going to be a very popular product," said Andrew Bridges, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which represents Diamond.

The focus of the lawsuit centers on Diamond's Rio PMP300 player, which was slated to ship at the end of the month.

"This act excludes from the category computer hard drives," said Bridges. "The act covers devices that make copies of digital musical recordings."

The Rio can replay music that can be downloaded from the Internet in the form of an MP3 (MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3) file. MP3 compresses music files so Netizens can download and store on them their PC's hard drive. The Rio can store up to 60 minutes of music transferred from the hard drive.

Last week, the RIAA filed an injunction to halt shipments of the Rio on the grounds that the device breaks the American Home Recording Act, which was instituted to curb "digital audio recording devices" from making serial recordings using digital audio tapes (DAT).

Since DAT copies are as good as the original--unlike analog tapes--the Act requires DAT players to incorporate a copy management system to prevent multiple generations of a given recording.

RIAA claims the Rio is a digital audio recording device that perpetuates the dissemination of illegally distributed music outside the reach of control among artists and record labels. And, the Rio would act illegally because it was a device that recorded music off another digital device.

However, Diamond counter-attacked today saying it had not violated the law because the Rio can only download files off a computer, and PCs are not subject to the act. Thus, a device that downloads files from a hard drive is not in violation, the statement said.

"[The Rio] is a computer peripheral," Bridges added. "It cannot hook it up to anything but a PC."

In addition, Diamond argued that the Rio does not make "digital recordings," because digital recordings are "fixed" onto a physical object like a CD or a DAT. Since the Rio does not use anything but its flash memory to store music temporarily, the device does not make digital recordings, Diamond argued.

Nonetheless, the RIAA has made it clear it thinks a device like the Rio should make prior concessions to artists and copyright holders before promoting downloads of MP3 files off the Internet. And it is relying on the fact that the device is not registered with the copyright office, or incorporate a serial copyright management system.

The case will go to trial on Friday morning at the United States District Court, Central District Court of California.