Wednesday, October 18 2006, 00:25:04 #37089 Universal Music Sues Video Sites
Reuters 16:35 PM Oct, 17, 2006
NEW YORK -- Universal Music Group said Tuesday it filed lawsuits against online video sharing sites Grouper and Bolt for allowing users to swap pirated versions of its musicians' videos.
Universal, with artists including U2, Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, said it is seeking damages of as much as $150,000 for each incident of copyright infringement, plus costs. It estimated that thousands of music videos were being viewed on both sites.
"Grouper and Bolt ... cannot reasonably expect to build their business on the backs of our content and the hard work of our artists and songwriters without permission and without compensating the content creators," a Universal spokesman said.
The lawsuits were filed late Monday in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, Western Division.
Bolt's chief executive maintains the site removes copyright material as soon as it is notified and hopes to reach a licensing agreement with Universal Music. Grouper officials were not immediately available for comment.
"There's no question that people upload copyrighted content from time to time and occasionally we receive official notices to remove content and we do," Bolt CEO and co-founder Aaron Cohen told Reuters.
The lawsuits accuse Grouper Network, which Sony Pictures Entertainment agreed to buy in August, and privately held Bolt of actively participating in the infringement by copying, reformatting, distributing and creating derivative works from Universal's musicians.
The lawsuits also made clear that Universal, which is owned by French media company Vivendi, will retain the right to add Sony Pictures, a unit of Sony, to the suit going forward.
They charge both Grouper and Bolt with "mass infringement" of Universal's copyright, comparing it with the practices of original file-sharing sites Napster and Kazaa that have both been made to pay damages in similar cases.
"Through its use and exploitation of copyrighted material ... Grouper has become one of the most prominent and valuable websites on the internet," the suit against Grouper says.
Grouper and Bolt are smaller rivals to online video sharing service YouTube, which has agreed to be acquired by web search leader Google for $1.65 billion.
Universal Chief Executive Doug Morris had pointed to services like YouTube in the past as examples of costly copyright infringement. But the music company reached a licensing deal to deliver videos on YouTube on the day YouTube's acquisition was announced.
"We've made overtures to Universal before now and we're hoping that they'd like to have a robust dialogue in the same way they did with YouTube," said Bolt's Cohen.
According to online audience measurement firm comScore, Bolt had 8.1 million unique visitors in August while Grouper had just 1.8 million visitors. YouTube had 72.1 million visitors in the same month.
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