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Record Labels Sue Internet Providers over Site

The world’s largest record companies sued major Internet service and network providers on Friday, alleging their routing systems allow users to access the China-based Listen4ever.com Web site and unlawfully copy musical recordings.

The copyright infringement suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks a court order requiring the defendants to block Internet communications that travel through their systems to and from the Listen4ever site. The suit says the plaintiffs have not been able to determine who owns the Web site.

Plaintiffs in the suit include such major labels as UMG Recordings, a unit of Vivendi Universal, Sony Music Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp.; The RCA Records Label, a unit of Bertelsmann AG’s BMG; and Warner Brothers Records, a unit of AOL Time Warner.

Defendants in the suit are AT&T Broadband Corp., a unit of AT&T ; Cable & Wireless USA, a unit of Cable & Wireless, Sprint Corp., Advanced Network Services and UUNET Technologies, a unit of WorldCom.

The suit alleges that the Listen4ever site enables Internet users to download music from a centralized location containing thousands of files. This allows them to make unlawful copies of as many recordings as they choose.

The suit alleges that Listen4ever uses offshore servers located in the People’s Republic of China to host the Web site through which the illegal copying occurs. The plaintiffs allege that Listen4ever provides its services to Internet users in the United States through backbone routers owned and operated by the defendants.

According to the suit the artists whose works are being unlawfully copied and distributed through Listen4ever are: Christina Aguilera, Bruce Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eric Clapton, Barbara Streisand, Lenny Kravitz and Whitney Houston.

The suit alleges that the Listen4ever site also features albums that have not yet been commercially released. For instance, it alleges that the most recent album by artist Mary J. Blige, “Dance for Me,” was available on the site before released to stores on August 13.

The suit states that the Listen4ever operators also seem to be based in China. However, the plaintiffs said that “strikingly absent” from the site is any indication of the persons or entity who owns it.

The recording companies said the only information they have been able to find is that the domain name appears to have been registered to an individual in Tianjin, China. Even the site’s links for contacting operators sends e-mail to an anonymous Yahoo! e-mail account.

The suit states that despite Listen4ever’s connections to China, the site uses a U.S. domain name, is written entirely in English, appears to target an American audience by focusing on U.S. works and does not appear to feature Chinese music.

“Listen4ever has clearly located itself in China to avoid the ambit of United States copyright law,” the suit said.

The suit is the latest in a long-term attack by record labels on Web sites and services that allow trading of digital music files. Such offerings, like Napster and Scour, have been hit with massive lawsuits claiming billions of dollars in damages from violated copyrights.

The labels have blamed file-sharing on weak sales and lower profits, and the music business has, over the last year, started making its own heavy forays into digital music as a way to try and capture some of the cost savings of online distribution while still generate revenue for their works.

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