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The Record Labels Want My Minivan

This week in a New York court attorney's for EMI made the argument about why I should be personally liable as CEO of MP3tunes. They are suing not only MP3tunes, but also me personally and are going after my home, cars and kids college funds in their suit. I'm fighting back because it's wrong to go after someone simply because they are the CEO and MP3tunes is not about piracy. We let people listen to their own music collection (not others). Unlike most others online, we are strict about not sharing music between Lockers. I'm not alone in having to personally face the attacks of music attorneys. Besides misguided suits against end users the labels are personally suing other CEOs in a calculated strategy to try and intimidate company executives and investors from doing digital music start-ups.

Late last year EMI filed a lawsuit against MP3tunes for copyright infringement because we offer secure Music Lockers and a music search engine called Sideload. MP3tunes offers a personal service where each user can store their music library in a password protected area and then listen to it from any web page in an iTunes style interface, sync it to other computers they own or stream the music on a net radio, TiVo, Wii or other electronic device. Unlike virtually every other online service we do not allow public access to music files for "sharing", listening, or any other purpose (unlike services from AOL, Microsoft, Google, etc). Nevertheless, EMI sued MP3tunes and named me personally in the lawsuit.

I haven't done anything especially egregious or unusual as CEO of MP3tunes that warrants a personal attack. I am the CEO and I own shares in the company - as do most CEOs. I probably am less involved than most CEOs because I am CEO of other companies like Gizmo5 and am on the boards of still other companies. Other CEOs are facing the same threats from this new strategy to intimidate young companies. EMI sued social networking site Multiply and along with the company named their chief executive Peter Pezaris as a defendant. I've read some of the documents in that case and just as in my case there doesn't seem to be any special reason Peter should have liability.

I believe EMI's attorneys are embarking on a new strategy - target CEOs of companies to try and intimidate them. Through the court system EMI hopes they can force a settlement or impose their will on the company via pressure on the CEO. Rather than have to deal with the changing dynamics of the digital world they are using personal financial threats as a business strategy.

It's a serious matter when someone goes after your personal assets, especially in a copyright case where the lobbyists have Congress to enact laws where labels can claim billions in monetary claims without proving one penny of actual harm. (This is not the case with most other types of lawsuits where the affected party must prove real damages to win a monetary claim.) However, it's important to stand up for what you believe in the few short years you have on this rock. I believe people should be able to own their music and listen to it anywhere they like. And it should be ok for a company to sell you devices or services that enable this.

I hope the court sees these personal attacks as a transparent attempt to twist laws to use them in ways never intended. What we're doing at MP3tunes with personal Lockers is right and responsible. Not only is the company not violating copyright law, but none of our employees are either. I will keep you posted when we have a ruling from the Judge about whether they can sue me personally.

--MR

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