Puretunes emerged in May, claiming that it had won rights from several Spanish licensing agencies that gave it the ability to distribute major label music legally online. Label representatives said the site was operating illegally because Puretunes had not acquired the permission of labels, artists or song publishers.
However, the service went offline last month. The RIAA suit comes after several weeks of complaints from angry Puretunes customers.
"Contrary to everything that Puretunes told the public--both on its Web site and in news reports--they never obtained nor sought licenses for the music that they were selling to the public," an RIAA representative said in a statement. "It's bad enough that Puretunes was selling music illegally--it's even worse that they tried to perpetrate a fraud on the public by claiming that they were a legitimate business."
Representatives for Puretunes could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Puretunes took after an earlier Spanish company, Weblisten.com, which allowed subscribers to download unlimited amounts of music over a specified time frame. WebListen.com, which also launched without securing rights directly from labels, has been sued multiple times.
Puretunes plan was to give visitors all-you-can-eat access to a vast music library for time periods such as one night, one weekend or one week. On its Web site, the company advertised access to music from artists such as Madonna and Metallica, which are difficult to find on legal services such as Pressplay, Listen.com's Rhapsody, or Apple Computer's iTunes.
Puretunes struck an initial deal for distribution and advertising with peer-to-peer service Grokster, giving it a higher profile in the United States than rival WebListen.
Just a few weeks after launching, the service disappeared without explanation, however. Subscribers--some of whom paid for a full year in advance--said they have repeatedly e-mailed the company, but have gotten no response or refunds.
"It sounded too good to be true, which I guess it was," said Houston-area computer user Nephi Ferguson, who subsequently started a Yahoo e-mail list for people to discuss the company's apparent demise. "There has been no word from anyone. It's been very mysterious as to why they disappeared."
The RIAA suit was filed July 3 in a federal court in Washington. The trade group is seeking damages for copyright infringements made during Puretunes' short window of operation.