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US outfit cracks Web music copyright whip

Swiss owner threatened with jail, other sites get legal treatment

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The owner of a Swiss Internet site which posted the lyrics of popular songs faces a stiff fine or even jail after his home was raided by the police late last week. And now the action has extended to other sites which post lyrics, prompted by US company The Harry Fox Agency, which represents nearly 20,000 music publishers. A press release issued by the US National Music Publishers Association said the action was taken against the International Lyric Server, based in Basel, Switzerland. According to Edward Murphy, CEO of the US organisation: "Many of the people posting lyrics on the Internet...mistakenly believe that if the lyrics are merely copied down from a recording that they somehow become the intellectual property of the poster." But now the action has extended to another site, which tabulates user generated music. At Harmony Central, there is a brief message saying that it can no longer post information generated by users because of the threat of legal action. Heavyweights behind the action include EMI, Warner-Chappell Music and Sony. And titles allegedly infringed include I Got You Babe by Sonny Bono, Ay Ay I by Gloria Estefan and Walk Like an Egyptian. It is unclear whether reporting the names of these titles infringes the copyright. Users at the Lyrics server are people who have bought the records from big record companies and transcribed them. The plaintiffs in the action admit that the Lyrics server was not charging people to examine or download musical works but said that the US Congress had passed criminal laws aimed at people distributing copyright material on the Web. Very interesting. The question still remains whether sites which aggregate news story headlines are also guilty of copyright theft and can also be sent to jail... ®

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