BPI down plays Amazon.com ‘illegal importing’ probe

Routine check

Music trade group, the BPI, has played down a report in the FT which claims that it is investigating Amazon.com for alleged breach of copyright laws and "illegal importing".

According to the newspaper, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) is in the early stages of an investigation examining whether selling CDs to punters in the UK from Amazon.com constitutes "parallel importing", which is illegal under some circumstances

Parallel, or grey, importing is when goods are sourced from overseas (usually at a cheaper price) rather than bought locally. CDs bought from outside the EU (the US or the Far east for example) could be a breach of copyright.

A spokesman for the BPI told The Register that it regularly checks the activities of retailers, among them Amazon.com.

But he described a recent test purchase from Amazon.com as merely a "routine check" and nothing more.

The BPI, the UK's equivalent of the RIAA, has already launched legal action against two e-tailers, Jersey-based Play.com and CD Wow, one of the most prominent UK online merchants, for selling CD imports. CD Wow is also being sued by the Irish music industry. The CD Wow case hits the High Court next month. Philip Robinson, director of CD Wow, said: "We have got consent (from the record companies) and change of ownership takes place outside the UK.

Drew Cullen writes: In 2001, Levi Strauss won a landmark judgment stopping Tesco importing jeans from Eastern Europe to the UK. Since then, the rights of trademark holders in the UK have been very much in the ascendant. The courts apply two simple criteria when considering grey importing cases: is the product genuine; and has it been marketed to the EEA (European Economic Area) with the consent of the trademark holder. If the answer is yes in both cases, the rights of the trademark holder is exhausted. Unusually for a grey importing spat, the BPI is taking action against CD Wow on the copyright grounds.

In the case of CD Wow, no-one is arguing that the CDs are counterfeit. If CD Wow, domiciled in Hong Kong, has indeed obtained the consent of the record companies, it should be able to show that is caught in a turf fight between different country subsidiaries of the same companies. And even if consent is not established, so what? Why must CDs be sold through official - and more expensive - outlets? The CD Wow case shows the contempt in which the public is held by the music industry. CD Wow can import genuine CDs and sell them cheaper than most UK retailers. Is this such a bad thing? ®

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