Group complains about 'legal' download sites

A Washington, D.C., advocacy group filed a complaint against two Web sites claiming to offer 100 percent legal downloads.

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a Washington, D.C., Internet civil liberties group, on Tuesday filed a federal deceptive-advertising complaint against two Web sites claiming to offer "100 percent legal" downloads of music, movies and software.

The CDT's complaint, filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), accuses Mp3DownloadCity.com and MyMusicInc.com of claiming their services are legal while directing their paying customers to free peer-to-peer (P-to-P) services where files are traded without the copyright owners' permission.

The two sites, promising legal downloads of files such as movies still in theaters, each charge customers about US$25 for a subscription, according to CDT. The sites then direct users to P-to-P networks using popular, freely available P-to-P software, such as Kazaa and LimeWire, and offer instructions on how to use the software, CDT said. Users of those P-to-P services have been sued by the music and movie industries for unauthorized file trading.

A link at MyMusicInc.com, leads users to a legal policy, saying: "Today there are over 200 million users trading MP3s & videos on these LEGAL filesharing networks. You can be assured that Filesharing is 100% legal, MP3s are 100% legal, and your membership to MyMusicInc.com is 100% legal."

Customers of the two sites have apparently believed that by paying for the services, they're buying legal downloads, comparable to legitimate services such as iTunes, said Alan Davidson, CDT's associate director. CDT has heard of a handful of cases in which users of such services have been sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) or the Motion Picture Association of America, Davidson said.

An RIAA spokesman didn't immediate respond to a request for a comment on lawsuits it has filed against users of the two Web sites.

The CDT filed the complaint against these two sites because they appear to be located in the U.S. or Canada, but many similar sites exist, Davidson said. Advertisements for dozens of Web sites promising "100 percent legal" downloads appear across the Internet, he said.

"It's our impression that there's a fair amount of commercial activity going on," Davidson said. "There's a very confusing marketplace for consumers looking for legal sites right now."

A third site, Mp3DownloadHQ.com, agreed on Monday to remove claims to be "100 percent legal" in response to a letter from CDT.

An e-mail to Mp3DownloadCity.com's affiliate service bounced back Tuesday. An e-mail to MyMusicInc.com was not immediately returned. Neither site listed a phone number or mailing address for their businesses.

In January, CDT joined other groups in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the MGM vs. Grokster case, in which the entertainment industry sued two P-to-P companies for their users' copyright violations. In its brief, CDT asked the court to uphold 1984 Sony Betamax ruling, in which technologies with significant noninfringing uses -- in that case, a video recorder -- were not liable for their users' copyright violations.

However, CDT has advocated the Supreme Court send the Grokster case back to lower courts to determine if P-to-P vendors are liable for copyright violations using standards not considered in the Grokster case. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments later this month; lower courts have ruled that P-to-P software vendors are not responsible for the copyright violations of their users.

CDT has encouraged courts to target "bad actors" encouraging copyright violations and to not outlaw technologies that may offer significant benefits, Davidson said. By filing its FTC complaint, CDT is "putting our money where our mouth is," he added.

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