There's been some talk today on various blogs after the producers of the public radio show This American Life sent an email to someone who set up an RSS feed linking to their MP3s, asking him politely to take it down (which he did). He makes it clear that this wasn't a legal "nastygram," but it also seems clear that the next step most likely would have been such a nastygram from the lawyers. A few details are important to understand what happened here. The radio show previously allowed a streaming RealAudio version of the show, but if you wanted to download a copy that you could take with you, it required you to pay money (and get a DRM-encumbered version). Recently, they changed the streaming RealAudio version to an MP3 version, to allow people with other audio players to listen. In other words, they voluntarily put up an MP3 version on their site. The guy who created the RSS was simply pointing to it. He was linking to perfectly legal content that was placed online by the copyright owners of that content. And they threatened to call in lawyers to stop it. As he notes in his own writeup, he decided to follow their wishes, even though he's pretty clear they have no case, should they want to pursue it. U.S. courts have found, repeatedly, that if you put something online in a free and open manner, there is absolutely nothing wrong with anyone linking to it -- even if it hurts your business model. A separate issue, of course, is whether or not this effort really does hurt their business model -- and, again, at the link above a decent case is made for why that's not true. It's the same problem too much of the entertainment industry seems to have: pursuit of short-term profits at the expense of long-term viability, undercounting the promotional value of the content and focusing only on the immediate fees it can bring in.
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