Alleged pirate faces labels in Australian court

Man accused of running free "shop" for 2 terabytes of copyrighted material. Defense lawyer says he just provided hyperlinks.

Lawyers for music industry players claimed that Stephen Cooper received "hundreds of millions of hits" per year to his allegedly illegal music download site, MP3s4free.net, as the long-awaited federal court case against the retired policeman kicked off Monday in Sydney.

The case first came to the court system's attention on Oct. 17 of last year, when Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), which suspected Cooper of music copyright infringement, raided his premises.

Music industry lawyers say the Web site was first identified as a copyright law violator in December 2002, after it was picked up by MIPI's Internet surveillance activities.

According to MIPI, usage statistics for the Web site showed that between November 2002 and October 2003, it recorded a total of 191,296,511 hits to the site, with 7,081,899 unique visitors.

The group's statistics show that 1.97 terabytes of data were downloaded from the site during this time. (A typical MP3 file is about 3MB).

John Nicholas, lead counsel for Universal Music Group and other music labels in the suit, said the infringement charges arise from the "activities of the first respondent, Mr. Cooper, who made it his business to distribute for free commercial sound recordings in MP3 format."

"The distribution occurred on a massive scale, which was made possible by the power and reach of the Internet," Nicholas said. "The scale of copyright infringement that occurred via the (MP3s4free) Web site is unprecedented in Australia for an Internet Web site of this kind."

Nicholas--who is also leading a separate case against Kazaa parent company Sharman Networks--said the site acted as a store for unauthorized copies of sound recordings, though "at Mr. Cooper's shop, his customers did not have to pay for their music."

According to Nicholas, the site generated money by offering advertising space.

"The music files made available at the Web site were the bait used by Mr. Cooper to generate traffic that enabled him to make money from paid advertising posted on the Web site, proportionate to the traffic," he said.

However, the lead counsel for the defense, Anthony Morris, said Cooper could not have infringed any copyright law, as "all he has done is put in a set of pointers to MP3 sites around the world."

"He has done nothing that Google or Yahoo hasn't...," Morris said. "He provided a directory for certain types of content. He only provided a hyperlink."

According to Nicholas, Cooper's Web site provided a top-hits directory similar to the ARIA Top 50 chart. Nicholas said Cooper's listing made available "copies of sound recordings by means of hyperlinks...by which Internet users who visited the site were given direct access to infringing files situated on remotely located computer servers."

"Those hyperlinks on his site, when activated, resulted in music files being transmitted to Mr. Cooper's customer," he said. "So far as the user was concerned, the transaction was perfectly seamless."

Other respondents to the case include Internet service provider ComCen, ComCen director Liam Bal, and employee Chris Takoushis.

Abby Dinham of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

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