Blow to MP3.com Defense

SAN FRANCISCO (08/31/2000) - MP3.com Inc. (MPPP) 's defense against charges of willful infringement brought by Universal Music Group took a hit Wednesday when Manhattan Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff decided to throw out the testimony of MP3.com's first witness, The Seagram Company Ltd. CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. because of irrelevance.

When Bronfman took the stand at around 9:45 a.m. EDT, MP3.com's attorney Michael Carlinsky attempted to show that the head of the Universal Music Group had a vendetta against MP3.com. He said that's why Universal is the only record group not to settle out of court with the e-music venture.

Carlinsky quoted past Bronfman statements in which he lumped the My.MP3com service with such notorious file-sharing outlaws as Napster and Gnutella. But the lawyer also stressed how Bronfman seemed obsessed with MP3.com's market value - which MP3.com alleged was Universal's motive for starting Jimmy and Doug's Farmclub, a hybrid Web site/TV show that Bronfman compared to MP3.com back in November. On the stand, Bronfman denied that he was bothered by MP3.com's market cap. "No, it excited me," said Bronfman, citing the upside of forming a similar business in-house.

MP3.com argued that Bronfman's testimony was relevant to the case because another court had ruled in an altogether separate proceeding that a judge can consider the attitude of the defendant in determining willfulness. "Universal [wanted] to put the company into extinction and vilify it," said MP3.com attorney Carlinsky. But Rakoff disagreed, insisting that only MP3.com's mind-set is important to proving willfulness.

"You think," Judge Rakoff said to MP3.com, "that Mr. Bronfman and company have a motive to economically damage the defendant? But even if they [did], it's irrelevant to the issues I'm concerned with. If we open the doors in copyright-infringement damages trials to an analysis of the ultimate motivations of parties whose intent is not an issue in the case, we have not a courtroom of reasoned legal decision, but a publicity circus."

Rakoff then excused Bronfman after only about an hour of testimony.

MP3.com President and COO Robin Richards also is scheduled to take the stand Wednesday.

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