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Suit charges AOL racketeering

Los Angeles attorney Bruce Fishelman has filed a class action lawsuit against America Online for alleged racketeering and violations of the public trust. Fishelman, whose clients are four Los Angeles area AOL subscribers, filed the suit in the U.S. District Court’s Central District in Los Angeles.

Fishelman told Daily Variety he believes the case has special interest for Hollywood’s creatives. Online services like AOL, he said, “take the various re-publication, replication and derivative-use rights whenever any sort of content is posted in a public place. If someone writes a story and posts it on AOL, or creates a piece of graphic artwork, it could result in granting AOL the rights in perpetuity to any derivative of what they’ve done.”

Though other online services retain similar rights, Fishelman said his suit targets AOL because of its size: The Virginia-based company claims about 8 million subscribers, far more than any other similar venture.

Fishelman also said AOL must keep a public trust similar to that of common carriers, broadcasters and utilities: “Parallels and analogies between AOL and other types of broadcast exist. It’s no coincidence that (Brandon) Tartikoff and (Robert) Pittman are deeply involved in the natural evolution of AOL’s activities. But the public-trust element is one that AOL has to be concerned about.”

Brandon Tartikoff is chairman of AOL’s Greenhouse Networks; Robert Pittman is president of AOL Networks, one of the company’s three main business units.

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