By Chris Nerney
Network World, 3/11/96 - Copyright 1996 Network World,
Call it the day the music died.
Or call it the day the world's largest music publisher trained its
powerful legal guns on the most popular Internet site for guitarists.
After being threatened with legal action for copyright infringement,
the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) on Feb. 8 shut down the On-Line Guitar Archive (OLGA), an FTP site where instructions
for some 15,000 songs were housed.
The clash between EMI Music Publishing and OLGA underscores the
embryonic nature of copyright issues and the Internet. Only three copyright cases have been decided in the courts so far, according to
attorney Lee Gesmer of Lucash, Gesmer & Updegrove, a Boston law firm
specializing in high technology and computer law.
But as the Internet continues its meteoric rise in popularity and
visibility, and as more and more copyright holders become 'Net-savvy, copyright disputes are likely to increase dramatically. While c
opyright in- fringement can be subject to criminal penalties, Gesmer
said, most cases usually are handled in civil court.
In the OLGA case, EMI alleges that the site has been using
copyrighted material without a license, and if one is not acquired, the music publisher will take legal action, said OLGA archivist Cal Wood
EMI attorney Barton Weiss declined to comment on the details of the
case because ``the matter is still unresolved.'' UNLV legal counsel David Hintzman would not return phone calls regarding OLGA.
OLGA, which evolved from several guitar newsgroups, has existed for
about four years. ``OLGA probably is one of the most organized guitar communities,'' Woods said.
Woods estimated that 5,000 to 10,000 guitarists have contributed to
the site and about 200,000 songs had been downloaded per week. OLGA had become so popular that fellow enthusiasts set up numerous m
irror sites around the world.
Nonetheless, the site managed to elude EMI's radar screen until
October, when EMI's British division, Thorn EMI, threatened OLGA's mirror site in the U.K. But it wasn't until four months later that E
MI's New York office moved on OLGA's home site at UNLV. Maybe it was
just a matter of time. ``When we learn of copyright infringements, we pursue them,'' Weiss said.
Despite the lack of case law involving the Internet and copyrights,
Gesmer said the OLGA case seems pretty straightforward. ``If you post sheet music on the Web, it's clearly copyright infringement,'
' he said.
EMI's threat to UNLV has prompted several OLGA mirror sites at other
universities to close down because administrators fear legal action by EMI and other music publishers. A California-based attorney
specializing in Internet copyright law said this ``chilling effect''
probably is what EMI had intended.
``There is a very disturbing trend in the United States for
publishers to `seize the moment' and ram through their interpretation of copyright laws,'' said Jonathan Rosenoer, who maintains a Cyberlaw
Web site and is writing a book on the Internet and copyright law.
``This has been a very strong movement of late.''
Rosenoer said publishers with deep pockets ``are very much aware that
the public knows nothing about copyright laws.'' This is especially true in regard to the Internet, he said.
The OLGA case appears to be a textbook example of what Rosenoer
described. According to Woods, OLGA cannot afford legal representation.
If UNLV and EMI are unable to work out a licensing agreement, he
said, the future of the site is in jeopardy.
Network World Fusion