Recently I wrote about BlueBeat, a Website that was not only selling MP3 downloads of The Beatles (something the Fab Four doesn’t yet allow, although you will be able to buy an apple-shaped USB drive with the remastered catalog soon), but also selling music in general for the cut-rate price of 25 cents a track. Something seemed fishy.
A few days later, EMI—the record company that controls the Beatles’ music—and others filed a lawsuit against BlueBeat for copyright infringement and asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO).
And that’s where things get really weird.
As Ars Technica reports, Media Rights Technologies (MRT), the company behind BlueBeat, has a very reasonable explanation for why what it’s doing is legal. You see, according to MRT’s co-founder and CEO Hank Risan, the songs BlueBeat is selling are in fact his original creations.
How’s that, you wonder? Apparently Risan told the RIAA’s general counsel Steven Marks that he authored the songs using “psycho-acoustic simulation” so they are new recordings and not subject to copyright restrictions. Well, that explains everything.
In its response in opposition to the TRO, BlueBeat’s lawyers claim that the Website is “entirely lawful and does not constitute piracy” and that the plaintiffs are not likely to succeed. Also, the plaintiffs are well aware that the defendants “developed a series of entirely new and original sounds that it allows the general public to purchase” and that “copyright protection does not extend to the independant fixation of sounds other than those conatained in their copyrighted recordings.”
Even if BlueBeat could somehow convince a judge that it’s completely legit—and that isn’t going to happen, mind you—there’s still the fact that the company doesn’t actually tell you that you’re not buying the originals. The Abbey Road album page, for example, lists the artist, album title, track titles, record label, and release date—you would reasonably assume that’s what you’re buying. So at the very least, BlueBeat is misleading users into believing they are buying something that’s not actually for sale.
Oh yeah, and the Website’s FAQs say, “our mp3s are fully-licensed audio-visual works and BlueBeat.com pays all applicable royalties,” yet at the bottom of every page it reads, “All audio-visual works copyright BlueBeat.”
So which is it? BlueBeat pays royalties or it owns everything it sells? Seems like if its own Website is so schizophrenic, there’s not much chance of convincing anyone else that it deserves to survive.
[Update: Ars Technica has reported that the judge has now issued the temporary restraining order because “defendants’ actions can cause irreparable damage to the perceived value of Plaintiffs’ music and to Plaintiffs’ digital distribution strategies and relationships.]