Judge rules against AOL in copyright dispute

Must remove music player from AOL 6.0 software

October 31, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled that America Online Inc. probably has violated a copyright of a small software firm and ordered the huge online service to remove the online music player feature from the AOL 6.0 software used by more than 10 million of its customers.

The ruling, a preliminary injunction issued Monday, is a result of a suit brought by PlayMedia Systems, a Los Angeles company that licensed its software to Nullsoft, a company that distributed WinAmp, a popular program that pays MP3 music files.

AOL, in turn, bought Nullsoft, and incorporated a version of the PlayMedia software into its AOL 6.0 software, which it introduced last fall.

PlayMedia argued that AOL 6.0 violated its license, which did not allow PlayMedia software to be used in "a product that is not distributed with WinAmp or derivatives thereof."

AOL argued that the music-playing software in AOL 6.0 is simply a "slightly modified" version of WinAmp.

After comparing AOL with WinAmp, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz ruled that the two appear to be different enough that PlayMedia's license probably does not apply to AOL 6.0.

As a result, he barred AOL from including the disputed software in AOL 6.0 or any other versions.

The judge also ruled that AOL must remove the PlayMedia software from any current user of the AOL 6.0 software by using the company's technology that can automatically update software at the end of each online session.

A spokesman said AOL would immediately seek a stay of the injunction and would appeal it.

AOL said in its filings that it had $39 million worth of AOL 6.0 disks that it plans to mail to prospective customers. AOL also said it had 4.2 million AOL 6.0 disks at computer makers ready for inclusion in their products.

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