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RIAA and Other Groups Revisit Case Against Cnet Over Downloads in New Letter

Cnet, the long-running tech website purchased by CBS in 2008 for $1.8 billion, is reportedly under fire from entertainment trade groups over its download subsite, which provides hosting for hundreds of thousands of applications.

A 16-member coalition including the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) sent a letter to CBS CEO Les Moonves, writing that the CBS-owned property “has made various computer, web, and mobile applications available that induce users to infringe copyrighted content by ripping the audio or the audio and video from what might be an otherwise legitimate stream,” often in the form of YouTube ripping applications. “We ask that you consider the above in light of industry best practices, your company’s reputation, the clear infringing nature of these applications, and your role in creating a safe, legitimate, and innovative Internet ecosystem,” the letter continued.

In response, CBS asserts that “all of the software indexed on Download.com is legal.” That legality hinges on “fair use,” which places the legal responsibility on the user of a software, not its creator.

The letter comes four years after a lawsuit against Cnet for similar reasons — making file sharing applications like Limewire available — was dropped by the group that brought it, which included Detron Bendross of 2 Live Crew.

The move is surprising, in an age of web access everywhere and easily accessible free streaming. Cnet is hardly the only outlet to download applications like Free YouTube Downloader (mentioned in the letter) — the equally long-lived Tucows has been offering nearly the same repository since the ’90s. Not to mention that the screen capture feature of Apple’s Quicktime Player allows recording of video off of YouTube (and any other video being displayed on a user’s device), and audio applications like SoundFlower allow users complete control over the audio incoming and outgoing from their computers, allowing for the capture of sound from any source. Essentially, once media — photos, video, audio, text, and everything else — is “within” someone’s computer, they will, regardless of Cnet, be able to do nearly anything they want with it.

But, perhaps most practically for the average user, the ubiquitous access that mobile users have to applications like YouTube and Spotify has made the capture of audio and video from streaming sources unnecessary, much like recording songs played over terrestrial radio to cassette.

Regardless, the website youtube-mp3.org, which facilitates the creation of MP3s sourced from YouTube videos and which lost a court battle against Google three years ago, is within the top 1,000 sites in the U.S., according to Alexa.