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Aimster Legal Woes Grow

File-sharing network Aimster has been slapped with two new copyright infringement suits – one on each coast – even as it continues its battle with the record industry.

Six major film studios – Disney, MGM, Paramount, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Universal – filed suit against the upstate New York-based Netco in District Court for the central district of California. A separate complaint, filed in Manhattan District Court by Time Warner, is pending.

In its complaint, the studios alleged that the Netco seeks “to supplant Napster as the preferred forum for the illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted works.” The only difference between Napster and Aimster, the studios alleged, is that Aimster users can trade in any type of file, including digitized motion pictures.

The studios are seeking an injunction to keep Aimster from facilitating the trading of copyrighted works, as well as statutory damages, which could run as high as $150,000 per work infringed.

Separately, a group of well-known music publishers, including Leiber & Stoller and the estate of Rodgers & Hammerstein, filed a similar suit against the company in Manhattan District Court.

The music publishers and the studios aren’t the first groups to tangle with Aimster in court. In fact, the Netco itself filed suit against the Recording Industry Assn. of America in May. In that suit, filed in the northern district of New York, Aimster seeks a declamatory judgment on the legitimacy of its own service.

The RIAA then countersued for copyright infringement in district court in Manhattan, where most of the five major labels have their corporate headquarters. But the northern district judge in June opted to keep the case in his jurisdiction.

Aimster co-founder Johnny Deep said the company will move to consolidate all the legal action in the northern district. He characterized the suits as an attempt by the entertainment industry to railroad the company into a settlement by forcing it to fight expensive battles on several fronts.

“We’re a legitimately small company,” he said. “It’s hard enough for us to defend ourselves in one jurisdiction, let alone three.”

On the company’s Web site, Aimster invites its users to make a “voluntary payment” for the file-sharing service in order to help the company defend itself against legal challenges.

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