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MP3sparks.com downed by links to Russian cybercrime gang

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MP3sparks is owned by Russian outfit Media Services, and was named AllofMP3 until a Russian court ruling over unpaid royalties forced a rebrand in July 2007.

Media Services' latest decision to deal with AbdAllah leaves it open to renewed allegations by rights holders that it is a criminal element itself.

Media Services could not be reached today.

The firm claims copyright legitimacy via a royalties-collecting society called "Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively". Western collecting bodies do not recognise the organisation.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry has waged a sustained campaign against Media Services' alleged piracy on behalf of the record industry. In June 2006 it said of MP3sparks' forerunner AllofMP3:

Unlike all the legitimate sites, it does not pay artists or copyright holders so it is effectively stealing from those who create music. Like most things that appear to be too good to be true, AllofMP3.com is not what it seems.

AllofMP3 was reckoned to be the second most popular digital music retailer in the UK market, after Apple's iTunes. Data on MP3sparks is not available.

Both AllofMP3 and MP3sparks won acclaim from digital music fans for more than the rock-bottom $0.20 per track fees, however. The service also offers a much wider choice of encoding and higher bitrates, and has never bothered tethering music to particular devices with DRM.

News of the service pitching up in a known source of online scams leaves ethically-minded digital music fans with a dilemma. If their ISP can still access MP3sparks, should they continue to use the site despite its shady choice of friends?

On the other hand, many customers view their purchases as a protest to the mainstream record industry - which has made its own share of moral missteps - to catch up technically.

For now, the balance lies with the individual's conscience*. ®

*Not for customers of Canadian ISP Rogers, it seems. Unconfirmed reports say it is blocking MP3sparks independently.

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