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Programmer sues Kazaa for $25 million

A developer who helped write the file-swapping tool says that he still owns part of the copyrights, in a lawsuit Sharman Networks calls "without merit."

A programmer who helped write the original version of the popular Kazaa file-swapping software is suing its current owner Sharman Networks for $25 million, saying he still owns part of the copyright to the program.

Romanian developer Fabian Toader, who helped write the program for its original owners, said in a court filing that he never signed any contract that gave away the copyright to his code. He's asking Sharman for $25 million in a case filed early this month in Los Angeles federal court.

Sharman, which bought the Kazaa software from its original owners, a European company called Kazaa BV, says Toader's claim is without merit.

"The work done by Fabian Toader on early versions of the Kazaa Media Desktop software was done under a work-for-hire agreement that expressly states that Kazaa BV owned all rights to any work related to the development of the software," Sharman said in a statement.

Toader could not be reached for comment.

Toader and Sharman have tangled for nearly a year over rights to the program, a potentially embarrassing dispute for Sharman, which is being charged by entertainment companies with itself abetting massive Internet copyright infringement, and which ordinarily keeps an extraordinarily tight lid on details of company policy or technology.

According to court documents, Toader--now a Microsoft employee in the Seattle area, according to his attorney, Marc Fenster--first approached Sharman in June last year, asking for credit as a creator of Kazaa. Ultimately, he asked for monetary compensation of 25,000 euros, threatening otherwise to release the original Kazaa source code onto the Net, according to Sharman court filings.

Sharman filed suit to combat the claim in Washington state court, and a judge granted an injunction barring Toader from releasing the code. Toader in turn filed a federal suit in Washington, and a judge there put a hold on the state court's injunction and ordered Toader to hand over all copies of the Kazaa source code for safekeeping while the copyright trial was pending.

The Los Angeles suit, filed March 4, comes after Toader withdrew his case in Seattle, but covers most of the same issues.

According to Fenster, the Romanian programmer never signed any kind of contract--work for hire or otherwise--that would have had him relinquish his ownership rights in the Kazaa code. The only document he signed was a nondisclosure agreement, Toader's complaint says.

"This work was done without a written agreement," Fenster said. "We have asked (Sharman) for it, if it exists. They have been unable to produce such a document. If they have one, we'd love to see it."