Judge allows EMI to personally sue Robertson

After a former MP3tunes.com president says the founder was indeed making company decisions, a U.S. District judge changes the tune of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Update: 5:42 p.m. PT: To include information about a witness being compensated by EMI.

The copyright lawsuit filed by major recording company EMI against Michael Robertson, founder of MP3tunes.com, took an unexpected turn on Friday.

A U.S. District judge will allow EMI to file suit against Robertson personally--not just his company, MP3tunes , according to a copy of the judge's decision. Besides accusing MP3tunes of violating its copyright in a suit filed in November 2007, EMI also named Robertson as a defendant.

A year ago, a judge in the case threw out the copyright-infringing charges against Robertson, but on Friday, Judge William Pauley, for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, decided to let EMI once again name Robertson as a defendant.

Michael Robertson, founder of MP3tunes.com James Martin/CNET

The reason for the switch was the new evidence provided by MP3tunes' former president. In April of 2008, Emily Richards gave a deposition. In July of this year, 10 months after she left the company, she gave another one. In the latter testimony, Richards said Robertson was making a lot of the decisions for the company and that Robertson handled "technical, product decision, and legal matters without her involvement." This, argues EMI, shows that Robertson exercised control over MP3tunes and this should allow it to bring a suit against him personally.

MP3tunes, which allows users to store their songs in a digital locker and access them from any Web-enabled device, argued that this statement was consistent with Richards' earlier testimony. The judge didn't buy it.

"From the court's review of both depositions, it is clear that Richards provided new testimony," Pauley wrote.

Robertson said on Monday afternoon that the difference between Richards first deposition and her last was that EMI paid her $10,000. An EMI spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

In Pauley's decision, he notes that EMI agreed to compensate Richards for "documented legal fees and costs up to $10,000" as well as pay expenses for her lawyer. The judge apparently saw nothing wrong with the arrangement. Pauley however noted that Richard testified that she left the company at Robertson's request, a fact that "bears on her credibility."

The good news for Robertson, who also founded MP3.com (now owned by CNET publisher CBS Interactive) and Linspire, is that Pauley threw out one of EMI's copyright claims. EMI's other claims, however, will be allowed to proceed.

Robertson, who in the past has called EMI's attempts to sue him personally " despicable ," said that EMI's attempts to go after his personal assets is the music label's newest way of discouraging technologists from developing businesses that use their content in ways they don't like.

"We want to argue the merits of the case," Robertson said. "They want to drag it out...people should be able to store their music online."

The case is scheduled to go to trial in March.

 

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