The National Music Publisher's Association (NMPA), which represents the owners of most songs published in the United States, said it filed suit in Los Angeles federal court against the parent companies of file-swapping services MusicCity, Grokster and Kazaa.
"This lawsuit seeks to protect the rights of music creators from flagrant piracy," Edward Murphy, president of the NMPA, said in a statement. "As the legitimate market for online music develops, however, it is also about fundamental fairness to the music services that wish to comply with the law by taking licenses."
The lawsuit is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga aimed at stopping consumers from trading copyrighted musical and other works over the Internet through peer-to-peer networks, a practice popularized by Napster. In October, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America sued MusicCity, Grokster and Kazaa in a move to prevent people from trading copies of music and films over the Web.
The copyright holders, so far, have been victorious against a handful of companies, effectively stopping file trading on Napster, shutting down Scour and placing Aimster in financial straits. The music and film industries' new targets may be harder to rein in. While Napster and Scour ran services that assisted Web surfers in their search for copyrighted works, MusicCity merely makes software that allows individuals to swap computer files.
Although the NMPA has joined record labels and artists in many of the suits targeting file-swapping services and software makers, to date it has shown greater willingness to settle than some of its legal partners. In September, the publishers struck a deal with Napster, which agreed to pay $26 million to settle the dispute.
MusicCity said it has not yet been notified by the NMPA about Tuesday's lawsuit, but added that it is "vigorously" defending all legal actions against it.
"I'm learning that in this brave new world of lawsuits that there appears to be no one that has to notify you," said Steve Griffin, chief executive of StreamCast Networks, which handles the MusicCity site. "It saddens me that we can't have a business dialogue before people think they could go off and sue companies."