In what may be the most significant ruling yet in the battle between the Recording Industry and a small army of independent web sites providing MP3 downloads and streaming audio content, a US District Court in Seattle ruled that Digital audio portal Streambox may continue to sell a controversial program that allows Internet users to hack through the security encryption of streaming audio and video broadcasts in the RealAudio and G2 Formats.
The decision ended a ban on the sale and distribution of the Streambox Ripper, a popular program that allows users to capture streaming audio and video broadcasts and save them to their hard drives in one of a number of popular formats. A Judge had granted RealNetworks request for a temporary restraining order banning distribution of several Streambox products the company claimed did it irreparable harm.
Legally speaking, the ruling may be what the French would call a Dien Bien Phu.
The development of digital audio formats which cannot be copied has been at the heart of the Recording Industry's strategy of not-so-passive resistance to the MP3 movement.
RealNetworks has portrayed streaming media as one answer to the MP3 bootleg problem. In the RealNetwork's system, copyright holders and content distributors decide how much access the public has to a particular recording. A file may be provided for full download, preview only or restricted to a streaming broadcast, depending on the wishes of the distributor.
The Streambox victory came as a sharp contradiction to some analysts predictions that the courts would come down on the side of the recording industry.
The overall significance of the ruling?
If a company can legally distribute software that intentionally disables copyright protection, it would appear that efforts to control distribution of music over the Internet are doomed.
The recording industry has delayed making many major acts available online in anticipation of encrypted formats that will not allow copying. Any such formats will presumably be vulnerable to hacks of the sort Streambox developed...
The Streambox Ripper, available for free download at the company's web site, is simple to use and a must have for any serious Net audiophile. The program allows users to convert streaming audio into .MP3, .WAV and Windows Media Formats.
In addition to allowing surfers to convert streaming music broadcasts like those offered by many radio stations over the Internet, it can also be used to capture sporting events, news programs, talk shows and sound clips.