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Court Says It`s OK to Download Music Files Free of Charge

Court Says It`s OK to Download Music Files Free of Charge

Posted May. 15, 2003 21:44,   


The court dismissed a criminal charge against Soribada, a website that functioned like the American website Napster.

The "single-judge panel" Criminal Division 3 of the Seoul District Court dismissed the criminal charge against the Yang brothers, who operated the website. They were indicted on bail in August of 2001 on a copyrights infringement charge. The prosecution requested the court render one-year sentence on them.

In the opinion, the presiding judge Hwang Han-sik held, "The prosecution just argued that the defendants helped others violate the copyrights by allowing Soribada members to share music files. But the indictment failed to establish how their operation of the site led to infringement of copyrights. This court finds no specific facts constituting the elements of the crime allegedly committed by the defendants. The case does not warrant the indictment, and, therefore, this court hereby dismisses the charge against the defendants."

The ruling confirmed the legality of downloading music from the website. Thus, Soribada users no longer have to worry about a criminal lawsuit. Embrain, an online marketing company, predicts that, in the future, 75% of the Internet users will use Soribada program to share their files. For now, less than half of the users use the program.

The ruling shocked the recording labels and the music studios. The quality of MP3 files floating on the website equals that of the music recorded on CD ROM. Rejuvenation of the site will blow a devastating damage to the sale of music CDs. The recording industry is arguing that websites like Soribada costs it more than 250 billion won (or, approximately, $2 million) a year.

Chairman of the Recording Industry Association of Korea Park Kyung-choon said, "I think we need an emergency meeting."

In the meanwhile, the sale of MPS players is on a steady rise with the increased availability of online music files. With the players, people can play the downloaded files at ease.

Online software and movie clip developers are also embracing themselves for the aftermath of this ruling. Soribada has served as a venue where not only music files, but also movie files and software have been posted for free downloading. Therefore, in the future, more Internet users will expectedly log onto the websites like Soribada in search of free downloads.

The Yang brothers, who have operated the website since May of 2000, were indicted in 2001. Then, July of 2002, the Suwon District Court issued an injunction ordering the shutdown of the Soribada server. In response, the Yang brothers came up with a little modified Soribada II and have maintained it.

Ho-Won Choi Tae-Hoon Lee bestiger@donga.com jefflee@donga.com