Legal reprieve for Russian MP3 site?

Moscow prosecutors decline to charge popular site AllofMP3, which offers songs for just pennies online.

Moscow prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges against a popular Internet site that sells MP3s for just pennies, according to Russian news reports.

Record industry groups in the United States and Europe are trying to close the Russian AllofMP3.com, which offers downloads of MP3s--including songs from The Beatles and other groups that have not authorized digital distribution--for just a few cents per song.

Late last month, Moscow police completed an investigation of the issue and recommended to prosecutors that the site be charged with copyright violations. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) also submitted a formal complaint about the site.

On Friday, Russian news agency Tass reported that prosecutors had declined to press criminal charges, citing specifics of Russian copyright law.

A spokeswoman for IFPI said Monday that the organization had not heard an official response from the Moscow prosecutors.

"We have received no confirmation of any decision, and we do not expect it for some time," said IFPI spokeswoman Fiona Harley. "However, if it is true that the prosecutor has not taken the case this would be very disappointing, considering the blatant and large-scale infringement that continues to take place."

The tussle over AllofMP3.com highlights the difficulties that copyright companies are having around the world, faced with myriad versions of laws that are often imperfectly adapted to new Internet distribution models.

The Russian site says it has legal rights to sell the music in the form of licenses from the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. Record labels say that group does not have the authority to grant distribution rights to their music.

Similar issues have arisen in Spain, where a pair of Net companies began distributing music online citing the approval of local license authorities. Record labels sued both, but only one--Weblisten.com--remains in operation.

The IFPI spokeswoman said the group would pursue the case further if the Moscow prosecutor takes no action.

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