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The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said Wednesday it has filed a lawsuit against the Spanish company Puretunes.com, claiming the service had defrauded its customers into believing that its service was licensed by record labels. Puretunes disappeared last month without any explanation, leaving behind many seething customers, some of whom had paid a full year in advance.

Puretunes had previously stated it was a legal music service operating under licensing agreements from various Spanish trade associations representing performers and recording artists, including Sociedad Gerneral de Autores y Editores (SGAE) and the Asociacion de Artistas, Interpretes y Ejecutantes (AIE).

It also stated that under Spanish law it didn't need to acquire the permission of labels, artists or song publishers. A similar Spanish company, Weblisten.com, has been sued multiple times, but is still operating.

Puretunes billed its all-you-can-eat business model as a cheaper, less restrictive alternative to record-industry backed services. It even struck a deal for distribution and advertising with popular P2P service Grokster.

However, some customers began to notice odd things. Many of the files downloaded from the site had ID tags from the Russian legal music service www.allofmp3.com. The German site Heise Online counted at least 16 of those files, suggesting they may have been copied. Mediaservices, the Russian company behind Allofmp3.com, today confirmed in an e-mail that "we do not contribute to Puretunes and do not allow for content redistribution".

Even more revealing is the legal smokescreen Puretunes created to fight off possible court cases. While the lawsuit was filed against Sakfield Holding SA in Madrid, research by The Register shows that Sakfield is owned by a Dutch company called Chantik Financing Services B.V, which is administered by NCS in Amsterdam.

According to records of the Chambers of Commerce, Chantik has two owners, Dean Properties on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and MTM Group on Bermuda. Dean Properies is administrated by a trust agent from Miami. NCS declined to comment.

Despite its unclear ownership, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. federal court because the service operated as a business in the United States. When it was still up and running, Puretunes was hosted from Virginia by Cogent. The RIAA is seeking damages for copyright infringements. ®

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