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Psycho-Acoustic -- or Just Psycho?

Beatles fans did not know whether to gasp or cheer when a little-known music site,, began to sell the Fab Four's remastered catalog for just 25 cents a song. After all, it was less than two months ago that fans were let down when rumors proved false that the Beatles would be available on iTunes. If the Apple Computer folks couldn't get the Apple Records all-stars, how did BlueBeat do it?

Simple. BlueBeat did it through psycho-acoustic simulation. If you don't know what that is, you're not alone. On Tuesday, EMI -- which controls rights to the Beatles' recordings in conjunction with Apple Corp. -- filed a federal copyright lawsuit against BlueBeat and its parent company, Media Rights Technologies, alleging that they are conducting "one of the largest piracy operations on the Internet." Yesterday afternoon, a judge agreed, ordering a halt to BlueBeat's sales, at least temporarily.

BlueBeat's defense is that it did not copy the Beatles' recordings. Instead, as a report on Ars Technica explains it, it claims it created a new "audio-visual work" from the original sound recordings by running them through its psycho-acoustical process. In a response to the complaint filed the next day, BlueBeat said, "Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on the merits because Defendants' website markets and sells an entirely different sound recording than that copyrighted by Plaintiffs."

Even more bizarre is the exchange of e-mails between RIAA General Counsel Steven Marks and MRT head Hank Risan that preceded the lawsuit. After the songs appeared on BlueBeat, Marks e-mailed Risan, "What's going on?" Risan replied that he owned the copyright for the songs he was selling. "I authored the sound recordings that are being used by psycho-acoustic simulation," he wrote. "I hope this satisfies your concerns." Ars Technica picks it up there:

Marks shot back a reply from his iPhone. "Thanks, Hank. What is psycho-acoustic simulation?"

Risan adopted a dismissive tone, saying that he had explained it to the RIAA back in 2001 when he was at their DC headquarters showing off MRT's streamripping protection tech. "Psychoacoustic simulations are my synthetic creation of that series of sounds which best expresses the way I believe a particular melody should be heard as a live performance."

At his blog Copyrights & Campaigns, Ben Sheffner dismisses BlueBeat's defense as a bunch of bunk. Copyright law, he says, "does not permit a company to re-record a recording by some new technical means -- even a 'psycho-acoustic simulation' device -- and then sell the 'new' recordings." Or as Dallas copyright lawyer Scott Mackenzie told Wired: "They're hosed."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 6, 2009 at 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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