NEW YORK, March 24 (Reuters) - Former Beatle Paul McCartney's publishing company MPL Communications Inc. has joined the record industry's battle against digital music company MP3.com Inc.'s (NasdaqNM: MPPP) controversial database of copyrighted music.
The publishing company, which owns the rights to McCartney's solo catalog as well as songs by Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Buddy Holly and others, filed a suit last week in the U.S. District Court in New York accusing the San Diego-based company of copyright infringement stemming from its http://my.mp3.com service.
The suit represents the second wave of attack against the service, which includes a database of over 80,000 copyrighted albums the company has copied. Using MP3.com software, computer users that own one of these recordings can listen to the albums over the Internet from any computer.
The service sparked a lawsuit from the trade group Recording Industry Association of America, representing most of the world's largest record labels, accusing MP3.com of violating copyright law by compiling its digital album archive.
"This represents the first lawsuit against MP3.com undertaken by independent publishing companies," McCartney's spokesman Paul Freunlich told Reuters.
While McCartney isn't personally suing the fledgling company, he is the principal owner of MPL and raises the profile of the record industry anti-piracy crusade by involving one of the best known artists of the rock era.
MPL was joined in its suit by Peer International Corp, whose catalog includes the late Latina star Selena and country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers.
A spokeswoman from MP3.com confirmed it received the suit, but declined to comment on it.
Elaine Combs, a visiting assistant law professor at Rutgers Law School, said: "The crux of the issue is whether or not the existence of this database constitutes a copyright infringement, even if you cannot access the database without having first bought the record yourself."
But a broader issue, experts say, is whether reliance on litigation hampers the development of innovative technology.
"The danger of lawsuits like these is that it attempts to control and shape the development of technology to serve an exisitng business model," said Yochin Benkler, a New York University law professor. "That is a dangerous way to make technology policy.
"The business models need to change to fit the technology, not the other way around," he added.
This service, Benkler said, allows users to listen to their CD's anywhere without carrying their entire collection around with them. "A side effect is that it is possible to copy the music illegally. But it does not outweigh the usefulness of the technology."