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But the main issue is whether Federal District Judge Jed Rakoff will accept the RIAA’s argument (that MP3.com is guilty of "willful infringement") or MP3.com’s (that the company is innocent of malicious intent and that its infringement is accidental). The difference between the two is a gigantic monetary chasm.

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On Monday (7/10), the Recording Industry Association of America served papers to MP3.com—on behalf of EMI Music, Sony Music and the Universal Music Group—detailing the formal damages it is seeking from the copyright infringement lawsuit the Association filed in January.

EMI, Sony and UMG have yet to come to an agreement with MP3.com. Warner Music and BMG already settled for $100 million apiece.

According to Inside.com, the RIAA is seeking the maximum amount of damages allowed by law, damages awarded on a per-song basis. MP3.com is asking that damages be assessed on a per-CD basis. In the original lawsuit, the RIAA claimed that MP3.com had illegally copied 45,000 records for its My.MP3.com service. At an average of 12 songs per CD, that would represent 540,000 works.

Copyright law isn't necessarily clear on whether the contents of a CD should be considered one work or several: "for the purpose of this subsection," the relevant clause states, "all the parts of a compilation or derivative work constitute one work."

But the main issue is whether Federal District Judge Jed Rakoff will accept the RIAA's argument (that MP3.com is guilty of "willful infringement") or MP3.com's (that the company is innocent of malicious intent and that its infringement is accidental). The difference between the two is a gigantic monetary chasm. Using the guidelines of copyright law, the maximum penalty for willful infringement is $150,000 per infringed work. For accidental infringement the penalty could be as little as $200 per work.

Inside.com did the math so we don't have to: That makes the total $81 billion (540,000 works at $150k apiece) if the RIAA—which wants the full monty—gets its way. If the judge rules in favor of MP3.com, the price tag is a mere $9 million (45,000 works at $200 apiece).

"The question here is whether the judge should penalize a dot-com with financial ruin," said MP3.com attorney Michael Rhodes.

But even if MP3.com wins the $9 million prize in this case, it still must survive the outstanding lawsuits with music publishers before it is fully freed from legal turmoil.

And then My.MP3.com will be really cool. We just might all be too old to enjoy it.

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