EMI says bankruptcy won't protect MP3tunes from copyright suit

EMI plans to go forward with its copyright suit against MP3tunes.com and founder Michael Robertson even though the music-locker service has filed for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy will not protect MP3tunes.com or founder Michael Robertson from answering for the copyright violations they allegedly committed, according to EMI, the record company that's home to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Coldplay.

MP3tunes.com founder Michael Robertson. Greg Sandoval/CNET

CNET broke the news today that MP3tunes.com, a music locker service that let users store songs on the company's servers and then access them from Web-connected devices, filed for bankruptcy protection.

The service was noteworthy for being one of the first unlicensed music locker services and helping to pave the way for similar services offered by Google and Amazon. But MP3tunes.com was probably best known for the copyright fight it waged with EMI.

The record company alleged in a copyright suit filed in 2007 that MP3tunes.com encouraged users to locate pirated songs via Sideload.com, a music index, and then store their pilfered songs in their MP3tunes' lockers.

In an interview with CNET, Robertson said the legal costs of battling EMI's lawsuit were too burdensome for the small company -- especially when the nearly 5-year-old case is not close to being resolved.

EMI, however, is skeptical. In a statement issued this evening, the record company said:

Since November 2007, EMI Music and EMI Music Publishing have been engaged in a lawsuit with MP3tunes and its principal, Michael Robertson, in connection with Mr. Robertson's facilitation of widespread copyright infringement on MP3tunes.com and Sideload.com. These sites have built their businesses on the unauthorized distribution of music, at the expense of EMI's songwriters and artists.

Now on the eve of trial, and after an ongoing press campaign claiming that MP3tunes would fight to vindicate its 'right' to infringe, Mr. Robertson has filed for bankruptcy protection for MP3tunes in the Southern District of California. After four and a half years of Robertson's bluster and rhetoric, it is apparent to EMI that Robertson has finally realized that his case has no merit.

While Robertson may believe that MP3tunes will be able to escape liability in the upcoming trial through this bankruptcy, Robertson himself is still a named defendant in the case and the Court has already determined that both he and MP3tunes have infringed EMI's copyrights. As such, he is facing personal liability both for infringements that the Court has already determined have occurred and for the further alleged infringements that will be addressed at trial. Accordingly, EMI will continue to pursue its case against Robertson, to ensure that its songwriters and artists are properly compensated for their creative work.

Should EMI prevail, MP3tunes.com and Robertson personally could potentially be on the hook for millions of dollars in damages. A hearing in the case is scheduled for later this month.

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