Home Entertainment

MP3s for pennies? Russian cops say no

Russian music site, long a thorn in music industry's side, finally gets targeted by law enforcement.

A Russian digital-music site offering high-quality song downloads for just pennies apiece is the target of a criminal copyright investigation by the local police, recording industry groups said Tuesday.

AllofMP3.com has been operating for several years, asking consumers to pay just 2 cents per megabyte of downloads--usually between 4 cents and 10 cents per song. Alongside the catalogue available at traditional stores like Apple Computer's iTunes, the site offered access to songs from the Beatles and other groups that haven't yet authorized digital distribution.

The Russian site claimed it had licenses to do so from a local clearing house, but record labels have maintained that the licenses weren't valid. After long-standing complaints, the Moscow City Police Computer Crimes division completed an investigation earlier this month and recommended that prosecutors charge the site's operators with criminal copyright infringement.

"We have consistently said that AllofMP3.com is not licensed to distribute our members' repertoire in Russia or anywhere else," Igor Pozhitkov, regional director of IFPI Moscow--part of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry--said in a statement. "We are pleased that the police are bringing this important case to the attention of the prosecutor."

The investigation marks a potentially substantial step forward in Russia for copyright holders. Record labels and movie studios have sometimes had difficulty persuading Russian law enforcement to deal with piracy problems.

A similar set of self-declared "legal" download sites arose in Spain, claiming to have licenses to sell music from local copyright authorities. Record labels sued both, and only one, Weblisten.com, remains online. The other, Puretunes.com, settled with the industry for $10 million.

The Russian MP3 site claimed it had full rights derived from the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society, as long as customers were planning to download the songs for personal use only. In a message posted in English, the site said it "does not keep up with the laws of different countries and is not responsible the actions of non-Russian users."

The Moscow City Prosecutor's office has until March 7 to decide whether to act on the police department's recommendation. The IFPI has also submitted its own formal complaint to the prosecutor's office.

According to the IFPI, the Russian music market is ranked No. 12 in the world, worth about $326 million in 2003. The group estimates that about 64 percent of music consumed in the country has been pirated, however.