NEW YORK - America Online Inc. on Thursday pulled the plug on a search engine for digital music in the popular MP3 format, which the recording industry says has become a vehicle for piracy.
''We don't have an efficient process for distinguishing between legal and illegal MP3s, so we decided to take it down until we can address that,'' said AOL spokesman Jim Whitney.
The search engine was located on a site belonging to Nullsoft, an AOL subsidiary that created and distributes Winamp, a popular MP3 player program for Windows.
Dulles, Va.-based AOL has reached agreement to acquire Time Warner Inc. which has an array of record labels.
The site did not store the MP3 files, but the search engine could point to other Web sites containing music files.
On Thursday morning, people clicking the Search button on Nullsoft's site got the message: ''Sorry. Search unavailable at this time. Sad, sad Nullsoft.''
It's not the first time Nullsoft has sent its parent company scrambling. Nullsoft programmers also created Gnutella, a file-sharing program similar to Napster, which lets users easily exchange files including digital music. The program was briefly posted on Nullsoft's Web site in March and has subsequently spread on the Internet.
Nullsoft's Web site proclaims its staff to be ''legitimate nihilistic media terrorists as history will no doubt canonize us.''
Other Web search engines, such as AltaVista and Lycos' Hotbot, still allow searches for MP3 files.
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