Swiss authorities shut Web music site

A Swiss Web site that publishes song lyrics was shut down by police last week after a group of U.S. music publishers brought a criminal suit against it. The case points out yet again the thorny intellectual property issues that go with the free dissemination of information over the Internet, especially music.

The site, called the International Lyric Server (http://www.lyrics.ch/) makes available the words to some 100,000 songs, from hard rock to show tunes. But all were published without the permission of the songs' creators or copyright owners, according to the National Music Publishing Association (NMPA), which is sponsoring the suit against ILS on behalf of a group of music publishers.

Last week, the District Attorney in Basel, Switzerland ordered the seizure of the servers and the contents of the ILS database as evidence in the suit, according to an NMPA statement. Users who try to access the site receive the news that the server is "temporarily shut down."

Neither the ILS nor the Basel District Attorney's office could be immediately reached for comment.

The plaintiffs -- a group of music publishers that includes EMI Songs, Estefan Enterprises, peermusic, Warner-Chappell Music, and Windswept Pacific Entertainment -- first filed suit against ILS in November, 1998, according to the NMPA. Soon afterwards, a Swiss court issued a temporary injunction barring the site from publishing certain songs.

But early attempts to negotiate a settlement using licencing agreements failed, according to the NMPA.

An ILS representative stated in writing that the Web site was not willing to stop distributing the songs nor to close the server. It also refused to cooperate in licencing discussions unless it was guaranteed concessions from the copyright owners, the NMPA said.

ILS founder Pascal de Vries said in an interview with the New York Times last week that he was merely organising the lyrics, which were submitted by the site's users. "For us, it was just a kind of discussion database, not something to harm the music-publishing companies," de Vries told the Times. "They think that they have lost millions through our server," he continued, "but they have to prove this, and they didn't prove it yet."

The ILS is asking its followers to sign a petition in support of the Web site, and said it would keep users informed at to what happens in court. It also promises to have large parts of the site up and running again shortly.

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