An Illinois federal judge said Wednesday that he would order the Madster file-trading system, formerly known as Aimster, to halt song-swapping in the next few days.
The decision marks the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) second substantial court victory against a file-trading company, just a day after the RIAA's legal victory in bankruptcy court shut Napster's doors for what appears to be the last time.
In a detailed and often pointed opinion, Judge Marvin Aspen said that Aimster, which played a brief but colorful role on the file-trading stage not long after Napster's appearance, was clearly responsible for large-scale copyright infringement.
"Defendants manage to do everything but actually steal the music off the store shelf and hand it to Aimster's users," Aspen wrote.
As with Napster's final loss Tuesday, the immediate result of the Madster-Aimster case will have little impact on the file-swapping world. The owner of the service, an entrepreneur named John Deep, and the several companies associated with him that were connected with Aimster, all declared bankruptcy in March. The vast majority of file-traders have migrated to other platforms such as Kazaa, StreamCast Networks' Morpheus, or iMesh.
But because, like Napster, it is one of the only full court opinions rendering a verdict on the file-swapping companies' legality, the Aimster case continues to hold the interest of recording industry and technology insiders.
The RIAA welcomed Aspen's ruling as a complete victory.
"This unequivocal ruling today underscores that companies and individuals will not be permitted to build a business on music they do not own and will be held responsible for their actions," said RIAA Chief Executive Officer Hilary Rosen, in a statement. "This decision helps to support the continued development of the legitimate online music market for fans, which is, of course, our goal in all of our online enforcement activities."
In his opinion, Aspen called on the RIAA to propose language for an injunction blocking Madster from illegal activity. Deep said the RIAA would be hard-pressed to do that in a way that didn't block legal uses of the system, such as instant messaging.
"This is going to be where they are going to be caught making misrepresentations to the court," Deep said. "On the face of it, it isn't possible to do."
In the ruling, Aspen dismantled many of the arguments typically used in defense of file-swapping services. "Ongoing, massive, and unauthorized distribution and copying" of music through the service is something very different from "personal use," an activity protected by law, he said. It didn't matter that Aimster didn't know of individual, specific files being transferred, because it had "constructive" knowledge that copyright infringement was happening on a wide scale, he added.
Moreover, the circumstances of Aimster's case made matters far worse for the company. Although it claimed it couldn't have knowledge of infringements because of an encrypted network, Aspen wrote that it was "disingenuous...to suggest that they lack the requisite level of knowledge when their putative ignorance is due entirely to an encryption scheme that they themselves put in place."
Worse, the company actively encouraged people to download copyrighted works on its Web site, and through a paid "Club Aimster" program, the judge said.
"Indeed, our factual findings demonstrate that Aimster actually goes to great lengths to both influence and encourage the direct infringement among its users," Aspen wrote.
The judge gave record industry attorneys five days to suggest language for a preliminary injunction that would block Madster's operations, advising them to look closely at the language that was used for Napster. Madster will have two days to reply, and the injunction will go into place shortly afterwards, barring a successful appeal.