Searching for a Law(yer)

Want to be in the search business? First find a good lawyer.

The International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has filed suit in Norway to close that country’s FAST music search engine, which is the basis for Lycos’ own MP3 effort. FAST is in the business of developing search engines, and is also developing a “family friendly” search engine with of Ogden, Utah.

What’s at issue in the Norwegian case, which the Recording Industry Association of America is thinking of pursuing in the U.S. against Lycos, is the fact that some (let’s be frank, many) of the files the engine finds are violating copyrights. The response is that if the industry finds pirates through a Web search, they’re free to go after them.

But that may not be the goal here. If MP3 search engines can be closed down, listeners may be pushed toward solutions that protect copyright, like IBM’s Secure Digital Music Initiative, which the RIAA announced last December.

This is just the latest suit in which copyright holders are trying to control search engines. Playboy and Estee Lauder have both sued over Excite’s sale of their names as advertising keywords. (Estee Lauder sued the company buying the ads, while Playboy sued the search engine itself.) It’s not the editorial function that is at issue here, but Excite’s right to sell ads alongside the results of searches using the keywords.

There’s an important lesson here for your Web store. As the stakes of Web success rise, and the online world becomes the real world, the real world (and its lawyers) will become increasingly important. Account for them in your business plans.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it. .

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