Suit prompted by site's sale of Beatles tunes

A federal judge in Los Angeles has issued a temporary restraining order against a Northern California website accused of “music piracy of the most blatant and harmful kind” by EMI Music’s record labels for selling unauthorized streams and downloads of Beatles tunes.

The order issued Thursday morning by U.S. District Court Judge John F. Walter came in response to the copyright infringement lawsuit EMI filed Tuesday against BlueBeat.com. It bars the Santa Cruz-based site from disseminating or selling infringing streams or digital downloads of EMI’s copyrighted material.

A hearing has been set for Nov. 20 in L.A. federal court.

The suit, which alleges massive copyright infringement and unfair competition, was prompted by BlueBeat’s move late last week to market digital downloads of the entire Beatles catalog at prices far below the industry standard for online tunes, about 25 cents per track or $2.50-$4 per album.

The action claims that BlueBeat, sister site BaseBeat, their Santa Cruz-based parent company Media Rights Technologies and CEO Hank Risan have made thousands of tracks by EMI’s biggest acts available for unauthorized and unlicensed streaming and sale.

The Fab Four’s material – recently subject of a heavily promoted reissue campaign by EMI, has never been available for legal downloads.

EMI’s suit called BlueBeat’s move “a brazen display of contempt…It is well-known throughout the music and business community that the Beatles catalog has never been released for digital download.”

The suit, filed by Capitol, Caroline Records, EMI Christian Music Group, Priority Records, Virgin Records, and Narada Productions, claimed that the music of many other top performers was illegally sold by BlueBeat.

Those artists include Pink Floyd, Coldplay, Radiohead, Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, the Beach Boys, and the Beastie Boys.

Contrary to representations made by BlueBeat that the music was legally licensed and that royalties were being paid, the action said bluntly that the EMI labels “have never authorized defendants to use their recordings in any manner.”

The filing notes acidly, “Ironically, while publicly touting their purported commitment to anti-piracy and legal music distribution, (the defendants) are themselves engaged in one of the largest piracy operations on the Internet.”

The EMI action offers BlueBeat’s potential defense for their conduct: “…Defendants recently sought to register their infringing sound recordings with the Copyright Office, apparently claiming that because they copied the sound recordings using their own computer system, they now own these digital copies and have the right to distribute them to the public.”

A brief filed by BlueBeat’s attorneys opposing the labels’ request for a temporary restraining order averred that the site is “entirely lawful and does not constitute piracy.” The defendants claimed to have “developed a series of entirely new and original sounds that it allows the general public to purchase from its website.”

The brief included a response sent Monday by Risan to an e-mail from Recording Industry Assn. of America general counsel Steven Marks after Marks requested an end to the firm’s unlicensed streaming and downloading.

Risan wrote, “I authored the sound recordings that are being used (on BlueBeat) by psycho-acoustic simulation…” He describes that process as “my synthetic creation of that series of sounds which best expresses the way I believe a particular melody should be heard as a live performance.”

The suit seeks an injunction against further infringing acts; any profits derived from BlueBeat’s sale of the tracks in question, or, alternatively, statutory damages of $150,000 for each infringed copyright; and exemplary and punitive damages to be determined.

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