The maker of the popular Kazaa peer-to-peer software has turned the tables on the Recording Industry Association of America and a number of entertainment companies by suing them for copyright infringement.
Earlier this week, Sharman Networks, the company that distributes the Kazaa Media Desktop software, accused the RIAA and several entertainment companies of violating its copyrights by downloading an unauthorized version of the Kazaa file sharing software and using it to discover the IP addresses of alleged music downloaders. Sharman Networks charges the RIAA and its representatives of using Kazaa Lite, a version of Kazaa not distributed by Sharman, to hunt down Kazaa users in order to file their own copyright claims against alleged file sharers.
Sharman Networks has been trying to stop the distribution of Kazaa Lite, says Alan Morris, Sharman's executive vice president. A representative of Media Defender, a copyright-violation headhunter that has worked with the RIAA, used Kazaa Lite at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., earlier this year to demonstrate what types of files were being shared, Morris says.
A representative of Media Defender was not immediately available for comment, but the RIAA issued a statement, calling Sharman Networks' copyright claim "ironic" when its software is used to trade millions of copyrighted songs.
"Sharman Networks' newfound admiration for the importance of copyright law is ironic to say the least," the RIAA statement says. "Too bad this self-serving respect stops at its headquarters' door ... and doesn't extend to preventing the rampant piracy on their networks or lifting a finger to educate their users about the consequences of illegal file sharing."
The RIAA has used the same kind of "ironic" tactics, given that, earlier this month, the trade association sued 261 alleged music uploaders for copyright infringement, Morris says. "It's ironic that somebody who's suing 12-year-old girls for copyright infringement themselves blatantly disregard copyright laws," he says. "Who's being more ironic?"
Morris accuses Media Defender of using Kazaa Lite "in front of our lawyers" to demonstrate the dangers of peer-to-peer software during a congressional hearing. "He is using a hacked version of our code," Morris says. "That's a straightforward Digital Millennium Copyright Act violation."
The DMCA prohibits people from reverse-engineering computer code for the purposes of cracking copyright protection technology.
Who's Violating Whom?
Even if the RIAA were using the authorized Kazaa Media Desktop, distributed by Sharman Networks, to track down alleged music traders using Kazaa, that would violate the software's end-user license agreement, Morris adds. Kazaa Media Desktop's license agreement prohibits users from monitoring traffic or making search requests in order to accumulate information about individual users.
The license also prohibits users from transmitting, accessing, or communicating any data that infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, or other proprietary rights of any party. The RIAA alleges that Sharman Networks is not enforcing that part of the license agreement.
Sharman Networks filed the copyright infringement claim against the RIAA and others Monday as part of a counterclaim to an entertainment industry lawsuit against Sharman Networks and other distributors of peer-to-peer software. The counterclaim, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that several companies in the music and movie industries have conspired to keep Sharman Networks from licensing content to distribute over Kazaa. In April, a federal judge threw out the portion of the music and movie industries' lawsuit against peer-to-peer software vendors Grokster and StreamCast Networks.