Russian court acquits piracy offender

Allofmp3.com head dismissed of charges

A Russian court has dealt the recording industry a blow, acquitting a top exec of a notorious downloading site of all charges of copyright violation.

The case, viewed widely as a test of the Russian government’s promises to crack down on piracy, ended Wednesday as Judge Yekaterina Sharapova ruled that prosecutors had failed to present “persuasive evidence” that Denis Kvasov, head of the company that owned Allofmp3.com, was involved in any of the charges, Reuters reported.

The Russian government recently closed down the website after many complaints from U.S. labels and Bush administration officials, who claimed the site was selling copyrighted music at a discounted rate without authorization.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has repeatedly listed Russia as a main offender, with China, of international copyright laws. Unacceptable levels of piracy in the country have been among the chief obstacles to Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

By agreeing last Novemeber to shut down the site and prosecute anyone involved, Russia seemed to be answering demands by the labels and U.S. officials. The USTR even announced that Russia was finally about to take bold action against bootleggers.

“Internet piracy based in Russia remains a serious concern. Russia has made a commitment to investigate and prosecute the operators of pirate websites, and Russia must live up to that commitment,” USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said in response to the acquittal. “We hope that any setbacks in that effort will only strengthen the resolve of the Russian authorities to tackle this problem.”

The Recording Industry Assn. of America was quick to express disappointment in the verdict. “It is unfortunate that the court could have misconstrued the law so as to fail to understand the criminality of the defendant’s conduct,” Neil Turkewitz, RIAA’s exec VP for international, said in a statement. “Mr. Kvasov and the company that he operated deceived consumers and music fans, profited on the backs of American artists and copyright owners, and appears to have gotten away with it–at least for the time being.”

Prosecutors had argued that Kvasov should be given as much as three years in jail in addition to an approximately $600,000 fine. But the acquittal “continues to demonstrate that the operation of Russia’s legal system in the area of intellectual property is incompatible with international standards,” Turkewitz said.

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