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Artists Sue MP3.Com For Copyright Infringement

Veteran songwriters and singers Randy Newman, Tom Waits and members of the rock band Heart filed a $40 million copyright infringement suit against online music company MP3.com Inc., the artists’ lawyer said on Tuesday.

“This is a case of artists banding together to protect their most valuable assets – their songs,” said attorney Bruce Van Dalsem, an attorney for Gradstein, Luskin & Van Dalsem, who is representing the artists in the case.

The suit alleges MP3.com illegally copied tens of thousands of the plaintiffs’ songs by digitally converting music on compact discs into MP3 files for its My.MP3 service, which allows users to register their music collection and later listen to that music via any computer over the Web.

San Diego-based MP3.com on Tuesday declined to comment since it had not yet seen the complaint. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Monday.

The company has already shelled out $130 million in damages to the world’s five major record labels after being forced to close down the My.MP3.com service last year when a U.S. District Court held it in violation of coypright laws.

The company relaunched the service in December, however, after signing licensing agreements with the majors – Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music, Bertelsmann’s BMG, Sony Corp’s Sony Music, AOL Time Warner Inc’s Warner Music and EMI Group

The suit by Waits, Newman and the sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, who are members of Heart, differs from the labels’ lawsuit because these artists are seeking damages on the copyrights to the songs themselves. The labels had sought damages for coyprights on the master recordings of the songs.

“These artists retain ownership of their songs and only they have the right to bring this case,” Van Dalsem said.

Compositions at issue include Newman’s hit songs “I Love L.A.” and “Short People,” the tracks from Waits’ “Mule Variations” album and scores of songs by Heart.

In a similar case about copyrights of underlying compositions, MP3.com Inc. announced in October it would pay up to $30 million to music publishers in a preliminary pact that would give it the right to use more than one million songs on its service.

Under the terms of that deal, the payments would be administered by National Music Publishers’ Association’s wholly owned licensing subsidiary Harry Fox Agency. Some 25,000 music publishers rely on Harry Fox for its communal royalty funds.

That deal also settled a lawsuit by independent publishers MPL Communications, which is controlled by former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Peer International Corp.

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