Technology Journal
AOL Is Taking Down MP3 Search Engine --- Company Had No System To Identify Difference In Legal, Illegal Files
By Nick Wingfield and Martin Peers
Staff Reporters of The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 2000, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

America Online Inc. said that it would take down a controversial new search engine that for the past month has allowed Internet users to locate music files in the popular MP3 file format, including pirated versions of songs, on the Web.

The decision from AOL, Dulles, Va., to remove the search engine comes at a time when the recording industry, including AOL's proposed partner Time Warner Inc., is trying to crack down on Internet services that let users more efficiently locate pirated online music. Although the AOL search engine is hardly the first of its kind, the online company's proposed acquisition of Time Warner added an interesting twist to its efforts to stay on top of the latest technological trends while respecting music copyrights.

People within Time Warner's Warner Music group were incredulous about the AOL search engine yesterday, questioning how AOL could have put the service up and what impact it could have on Warner Music's relations with artists, according to a person familiar with the situation. A spokesman for Time Warner declined to comment.

"The goal was to add a search function to the Winamp site," an AOL spokesman said, referring to AOL's Winamp music division in San Francisco. "Now that it's up, we see we don't have an efficient process for distinguishing between legal and illegal MP3s. Until we figure out how to address this, we're going to take the search function down."

The search engine was developed by Winamp and added to the group's home page at about a month ago. AOL doesn't store the MP3 files on its own computers, instead providing hyperlinks to songs on other Web sites. People familiar with the matter said AOL decided to take the search engine down after media inquiries to AOL and Time Warner about the service.

Several Warner Music labels are among the record companies that earlier this year filed a copyright-infringement suit in federal court in Manhattan against MP3Board Inc., a Web site that lets users search for MP3s on other sites. Ira P. Rothken, the attorney representing MP3Board, said yesterday he believed "for legal purposes there are no material differences" between the MP3Board and AOL search engines.

The AOL search engine was earlier identfied in a popular e-mail newsletter published by Dave Winer, an independent software developer.

Among the songs listed on the AOL search engine are those of Metallica, which sued Napster Inc. over copyright infringement. Cliff Burnstein, co-manager of the Warner Music-signed band Metallica, reacted angrily to AOL's search engine, comparing the company's development of the service to its launch of Gnutella, a Napster-like program developed by programmers within AOL's Winamp music unit. AOL later said Gnutella was an unauthorized project and removed it from its site.

Cary Sherman, general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America, was circumspect about the AOL search engine. "This is just one of many new services coming online. The RIAA regularly monitors new developments and pursues infringing activity as circumstances warrant," he said through a spokesman.

Copyright 2000 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.