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Moscow prosecutor lets low-cost MP3 site off the hook

AllofMP3.com not breaking Russian law, apparently

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Russian prosecutors have decided they are unable to take legal action against controversial online music provider Allofmp3.com - despite the music service's lack of sufficient licences to offer the content it does.

Last week, the Moscow Southwest regional prosecutor's office said no criminal indictment could be brought against the music seller because it has not violated Russia's copyright law, a local blogger has reported.

Yes, AllofMP3.com offers copyright music. No, it does not always have the prior permission of the copyright holder to do so. But Russian law was written to prevent CD and DVD piracy - copyright infringement through a physical medium. Its online manifestation was not something taken into account by legislators.

AllofMP3.com has won the support of many music buyers by offering songs very, very cheaply. It charges not on a per-track basis, as other services do, but on a per-megabyte scheme. Tracks are available in a broad array of formats, from AIFF to MP3, AAC, Ogg, WMA etc, encoded on the fly at any bitrate the user chooses. The higher the level of compression, the lower the audio quality, but ipso facto, the more you can download for the same amount of money.

And silly amounts of money at that: $5 for 500MB of music.

AllofMP3.com maintains what it's doing is legal, under the terms of a licence granted to it by the Russian copyright licensing authorities. Essentially, it can transmit CD content without first gaining the authorisation of the copyright owner, provided it makes a nominal payment for the privilege, which it claims it does. It says its distribution of tracks across the Internet of digital audio files is equivalent to a broadcaster or a cable company transmitting songs as part of their programming.

Last month, the computer crime division of the Moscow City Police began an investigation into AllofMP3.com's activities after receiving a complaint from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The police referred the case to the Prosecutor's Office with the request that the Internet site be brought to book.

However, because the site is not involved in the physical distribution of unauthorised copies of the songs it offers, it can't be put on trial for breaking Russia's copyright law, the Prosecutor's Office said last week.

The IFPI has already admitted that AllofMP3.com is operating within a loophole in Russian law, and that a successful prosecution would be unlikely. ®

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