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Allofmp3 hits back at US claims

By Simon Aughton

Posted on 9 Oct 2006 at 11:33 has hit back at claims by US Trade Representative Susan Schwab that its continued existence threatens Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Schwab called for the online music store to be shut down before Russia is allowed to join the international trade body after a 13-year wait.

'I have a hard time imagining Russia becoming a member of the WTO and having a website like that up and running that is so clearly a violation of everyone's intellectual property rights,' she told journalists.

US trade officials have been under pressure from the music industry to make the closure of Allofmp3 a prerequisite of Russian WTO membership. The International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI), the industry's main international lobby group, insists the site is illegal, wherever it sells music.

' is not a legal service either in Russia or anywhere else,' IFPI said in June. 'It is distributing music without any permission from the artists or copyright holders. Unlike all the legitimate sites, it does not pay artists or copyright holders so it is effectively stealing from those who create music.'

AllofMP3 has decided to hit back, arguing that it is licensed by two Russian rights societies.

'We're totally in compliance with Russian law,' said Ilya Levitov, a spokesman for Allofmp3's owner, MediaServices. 'It's a Russian company owned by Russian people. It's a Russian business.'

Levitov added that anyone outside Russia who uses the store is warned that they should check local laws before buying and downloading music.

The IFPI is currently waging two legal campaigns against MediaServices in the Russian courts. Its chances of success may yet be increased considerably should the Russian parliament grant final approval to new copyright laws backed by the country's president Vladimir Putin. It has given preliminary backing for proposals that include Western-style intellectual property protections and heavy gaol sentences for violations.

In the meantime Allofmp3 continues to enjoy the free publicity.

'Susan Schwab markets us so effectively - she could already be our press secretary,' it told the AFP news agency.

Schwab and the rest of the US negotiating team will meet with Russian officials this week in an attempt to achieve Putin and US president George Bush's goal of Russian membership by the end of this month.

'The dialogue is continuing,' Schwab said. 'We're making progress slowly but steadily and we'll see if we can get there. A WTO accession agreement with Russia is a high priority. There's no guarantee that we'll get it done.'

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