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Keep those CARDS and LETTERS coming

How about putting 250 or so songs on a single CD-R? On a Red Book audio CD, you couldn't record them as 250 discrete tracks, since the format limits you to 99, and 99 tracks in 74 minutes hardly leaves much room for musical enlightenment. But if you play CDs on your computer, and are not especially concerned about whether they play in your home or car audio player, recording your audio files in MP3 (MPEG-1, Layer 3) format allows you to pack huge quantities of Red Book-quality sound on standard 650MB-capacity CDs.


Playing music on your PC may not be your cup of tea, but prospect has sparked enough interest that MP3 has become a contentious format. With a 12:1 compression ratio, MP3 catapults a CD's capacity for Red Book-quality audio from 74 minutes to nearly 15 hours. But what has the RIAA up in arms today is not so much how many MP3 files you can cram onto a CD as where you can get them. With a four-minute CD-Audio file's 45MB neatly compressed to 3.75MB, MP3 files are easily downloaded and transferred at will.

Now imagine a CD player, portable or otherwise, with built-in firmware for compression decoding that would allow you to play home-recorded CDs with hundreds of top-quality songs on them, whether compiled from your own collection or downloaded off the Internet. Of course, you must make the disc on your PC and you can only play it from there now, but portable players with the capability to decode and play MP3 files from a CD-R are on the way. Or are they?

the RIAA responds: laws and orders

Considering the recent lawsuit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America against Diamond Multimedia in an attempt to prevent the marketing of its RIO PMP300, portable MP3 players may be slow to hit a potentially huge market. The RIO is a portable digital music player that can store up to sixty minutes of digital quality music and up to eight hours of voice-quality audio. What makes the player controversial is RIO's built-in support for MP3.


If it weren't for the dollars involved for all the lawyers and the threat to legitimate use of compressed sound and music by the public in general and content creators such as unsigned bands, the whole situation would be laughable. Think about it: First, the RIAA sued Diamond Multimedia over its RIO portable MP3 player, gaining a preliminary injunction, only after the RIAA is required to post a $500,000 bond. Then, Diamond delayed shipment of the RIO, but prevailed at the permanent injunction hearing and immediately announced plans to ship the RIO. The RIAA then said it would appeal. Next, Diamond Multimedia teamed with Liquid Audio to incorporate support for the Liquid Audio format into the player in a good strategic move to show that the RIO has legitimate uses.

world gone wrong?

Legitimate as it is, Liquid Audio is not immune to the rash of wrong-headed thinking Web-delivered music inspires. Michael Robertson, staunch RIO defender and proprietor of the clean, legal, and anti-pirate official MP3 site , included on his site an editorial titled "Can Music Be Secure?" Liquid Audio took exception to the editorial because it referenced a file in a hyperlink called "a2b2wav. zip" that purportedly cracked Liquid Audio's protection and allowed Liquid Audio files to be downloaded as WAVs without royalty payments. The reference was just that--a reference, pointing to a search engine that would find the file if you clicked "search on the filename." Robertson even stated that it was unlikely that the crack would work with current versions of Liquid Audio's player.

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Robertson received a letter from David H. Kramer, Esq. of the law firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, and Rosati. This letter, which Robertson then posted on his site, is an example of how the world goes mad whenever music and Internet are mentioned in the same sentence. Besides implying that Robertson may have had some role in the creation of the pirate program, it also accused him of "tacitly promoting distribution of the program ... [thus] facilitating the unauthorized modification of Liquid Audio's copyrighted work, and the piracy of countless musical recordings."

The letter concluded: "Liquid Audio requests that you promptly remove all reference to the "a2b2wav" program from your   site, and block all Internet access to your article titled `Can Music Be Secure?'" They did not ask him to remove the link they didn't like; they didn't ask him to if he would discuss the link with them. Instead, they said, "Block all Internet access to your article."


I don't know about you folks, but it seems to me that any attorney or law firm that requests that a writer or any other individual "block all Internet access to your article" needs an in-depth refresher course in constitutional law with special attention to the First Amendment. In the area of Internet distribution of music, or even writing about Internet distribution of music, it appears that the panic has begun and irresponsible reactions like this may become the norm, rather than being the exception. I think I had better go check my mailbox.