Record labels sue ISPs over access to site

Five major record companies have sued four of the biggest ISPs (Internet service providers) in a U.S. district court in an attempt to stop what the record companies say is blatant copyright infringements occurring at a music Web site registered in China.

The suit, filed Friday in Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, asks the court to issue a preliminary injunction ordering AT&T Broadband Corp., Cable & Wireless USA, Sprint Corp. and WorldCom Inc.'s UUNet division to block Internet communications to and from servers run by

As of Monday the site could not be accessed, but it was unclear whether the operators voluntarily shut it down or moved it to another site.

The suit alleges that the site makes available "for illegal copying and distribution on the Internet" recordings that are the copyright property of BMG Music, a division of German media giant Bertelsmann AG; Sony Music Entertainment Inc.; UMG Recordings Inc.; Virgin Records America Inc.; and Warner Brothers Records Inc. The recording companies are targeting the four ISPs because users in the U.S. use their backbone routing services to gain access to the site.

These services put the four ISPs in a unique position to cut off access to at the Internet entry point into the U.S., the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. said in a news release Friday. The record companies' goal is to stop the infringements occurring at the site, the release said.

The suit says has engaged in a number of tactics that make its operation more egregious than the music sharing service run by Napster Inc., which was shut down by court order. For example, lets users download entire music albums, while Napster's focus was individual songs, the suit says. It also hosts the digital music on a central server, while Napster provided a peer-to-peer (P-to-P) software that allowed users to search the hard drives of other users for music files they wanted. In addition, has made available at least one album before its commercial release.

The suit also alleges that the site uses offshore servers in an attempt to shield itself from the reach of U.S. law. The domain name is registered to an individual in Tianjin, China, whom the suit does not identify. The link from the site for contacting its operators sends e-mail to an anonymous Yahoo Inc. e-mail account.

"In enacting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress anticipated that infringers might attempt to move offshore to avoid U.S. law," the suit says. "The DMCA permits a copyright owner to seek injunctive relief to require ISPs to block access to such sites. That is exactly the situation here and the limited relief plaintiffs are seeking."

Spokesmen for AT&T Broadband, Sprint and WorldCom declined to comment on the suit citing company policy against discussing ongoing litigation. A call to Cable & Wireless USA was not returned.

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