'Unprecedented' music piracy case hits courts

A man is in court accused of copyright infringement due to allegations that he was responsible for two terabytes of music files that were downloaded between November 2002 and October 2003
Written by Abby Dinham, Contributor on

Lawyers for music industry players claimed Stephen Cooper received "hundreds of millions of hits" per year to his allegedly illegal music download site, "mp3s4free", as the long-awaited court case against the retired policeman kicked off at the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday.

The case first came to the court system's attention on 17 October 2003, when the music industry's copyright police, Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), who suspected Cooper of music copyright infringement, raided his premises under Anton Piller civil search orders.

Music industry lawyers will allege the Web site was first identified in December 2002 after it was picked up by the MIPI's Internet surveillance activities.

According to MIPI, usage statistics for the Web site showed that between November 2002 and October 2003, it recorded a total of 191,296,511 hits to the site, with 7,081,899 unique visitors.

The group's statistics show 1.965TB of data were downloaded from the site during this time, (a typical MP3 file is about 3MB in size).

Lead counsel for Universal Music and affiliated music label applicants, John Nicholas -- who is also arguing a separate case against Kazaa's parent company Sharman Networks -- said the infringement charges arise out of the "activities of the first respondent, Mr Cooper, who made it his business to distribute for free commercial sound recordings in MP3 format."

"The distribution occurred on a massive scale which was made possible by the power and reach of the Internet," he said. "The scale of copyright infringement that occurred via the mp34free Web site is unprecedented in Australia for an Internet Web site of this kind."

Nicholas said the Web site acted as a "shop" for the supply of unauthorised copies of sound recordings, although "at Mr Cooper's shop, his customers did not have to pay for their music."

According to Nicholas, the site generated money by offering advertising space.

"The music files made available at the Web site were the 'bait' used by Mr Cooper to generate traffic that enabled him to make money from paid advertising posted on the Web site proportionate to the traffic," he said.

However, lead counsel for the defence, Anthony Morris QC, said Cooper could not have abused any copyright material as "all he has done is put in a set of pointers to MP3 sites around the world".

"He has done nothing that Google or Yahoo hasn't… he provided a directory for certain types of content," Morris said. "He only provided a hyperlink."

According to Nicholas, Cooper's Web site provided an "ARIA Top 50 Chart"-style directory that made available "copies of sound recordings by means of hyperlinks… by which Internet users who visited the site were given direct access to infringing files situated on remotely located computer servers."

"Those hyperlinks on his site when activated resulted in music files being transmitted to Mr Cooper's customer," he said. "So far as the user was concerned the transaction was perfectly seamless."

Further respondents to the case include Cooper's Internet service providers, E-Talk and ComCen and the "controlling mind" of both organisations, Liam Bal. Another respondent to the case is the primary business contact for Cooper at the ISPs, Chris Takoushis.

The case resumes tomorrow.

Abby Dinham reported from Sydney for ZDNet Australia. For more ZDNet Australia stories, click here.

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