Altnet Fights Back, Sues RIAA

The litigious Recording Industry Association of America is involved in another legal dispute with a P-to-P technology maker, but this time, the RIAA is on defense. Altnet filed a lawsuit this week accusing the RIAA and several of its partners of infringing an Altnet patent covering technology for identifying requested files on a P-to-P network.

The lawsuit is the next step in a campaign Altnet launched in November 2003, when it sent cease-and-desist letters to a number of companies, including those it is now suing. Joining Altnet, based in Woodland Hills, California, as plaintiffs in the suit are Brilliant Digital Entertainment, Altnet's parent company; and Kinetech, a patent holding company that developed the technology in question and exclusively licenses it to Brilliant and Altnet.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges patent infringements by the RIAA, Overpeer, Loudeye, Media Sentry, and four executives at the RIAA and Loudeye.

Overpeer, which Loudeye acquired in March, and Media Sentry sell antipiracy products. Altnet's lawsuit alleges that the two companies, at the behest of the RIAA, flood P-to-P networks like Kazaa with "spoof" files that appear to be the files users have requested but which are instead damaged or otherwise counterfeit. Altnet, a close partner of Kazaa maker Sharman Networks, charges that the methods Overpeer and Media Sentry use to match their files with those sought by users infringe the Kinetech patent.

List of Demands

Altnet is seeking a permanent injunction barring the companies and executives it has charged from using file-matching technology covered by its patent. It also seeks compensation for monetary damages in an amount to be determined.

Altnet Chief Executive Officer Kevin Bermeister declines to estimate the extent of those damages.

"We're not really thinking about remedies and damages at this time," he says. "We have a lawsuit in front of us we have to present."

After its November barrage of warning letters, Altnet had discussions with some of the companies it targeted, but those talks did not lead to a resolution, Bermeister says.

Altnet's gripe with the RIAA goes back beyond its current dispute, Bermeister says. Altnet makes technology for legally distributing and licensing digital content through P-to-P networks. It would love to work with major music labels and other large content creators, but has been repeatedly rebuffed, Bermeister says.

"We've been very patient. This is going back now over three years. I've met with every single major-label executive over and over and over, but we haven't been able to obtain licenses from the majors," Bermeister says. "Every major has cooperated to ensure that we don't get licenses, and then, to top it off, this."

An RIAA spokesperson says the organization had not yet seen the complaint and therefore had no comment. A Media Sentry representative did not return a call for comment. Overpeer says it would fight the lawsuit.

"We vigorously deny these claims and find them to be completely baseless and without merit," Overpeer head Marc Morgenstern says in a written statement.

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