Warner Music sues MP3 search engine for infringement

One of the big four record labels, which just this week was part of a landmark deal for MP3 access through Last.fm, announced earlier it is suing a completely different firm that offers similar access though without any kind of compensation plan.

In what could essentially be the first case of its kind, as reported by Billboard magazine, Warner Music Group has initiated a lawsuit against a service called SeeqPod that maintains a public index of stored music tracks throughout the Internet. SeeqPod offers a search tool that helps people locate the music they're looking for, but then it also provides them with a player so they can listen to the music.

That's what has riled Warner, which has been quoted by several sources yesterday as accusing SeeqPod of providing its users with the means to get "to sites containing unauthorized and illegal copies of copyrighted music that can be played on demand or saved as playlists."

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There can only be one goal that SeeqPod has in mind, Warner believes, and that's to sell advertising along its player -- something it does not do yet.

SeeqPod is not exactly a garage project. In fact, 5% of the company is owned by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the US Dept. of Energy, whose algorithm for recognizing music within sound files that might also contain other forms of sound, speech, or noise, is actually being put to the test by the firm.

"This advanced search engine algorithm set and technology enabled biologists working at the Lab to discover hidden relationships in genomic data," SeeqPod's Web site reads, "enabling connections to be formed between human genes based on immense amounts of context and associations. It was observed that this technology could be applied to matching, searching and discovering relationships between any objects located on the Internet."

So while Google is crawling through the Web for news and articles that it can aggregate, SeeqPod is also crawling there in search of music, but not just accepting any MP3 file it sees as music because of its format or the contents of its meta tags.

The problem, however, is that the providing of the player may constitute the facilitation of a public performance by request, which under existing US law constitutes a special tier of music delivery. When someone or something plays a song immediately and solely for that someone, the law guarantees the performer of that song certain royalties she wouldn't get otherwise if the song were merely played on the radio, even if it was by request.

Thus quite possibly, and maybe even innocently, an experiment co-funded by the federal government may have crossed the boundaries that record labels feel they put in place to protect themselves against piracy. No word has come yet over whether other record labels will join Warner in its suit.

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