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Google goes on offensive, sues record label over copyright

Google-hq-2 EXCLUSIVE: Google has taken the rare step of asking a California judge to declare that by linking to copyright-infringing works on Rapidshare, the search giant is not facilitating the illegal distribution of copyrighted songs.

Last year, Blue Destiny Records, a small blues-oriented music label, sued Google, Microsoft and Rapidshare in Florida. The label claimed that Rapidshare was running "a distribution center for unlawful copies of copyrighted works," and that Google (and Microsoft's Bing search engine) were helping to prop up the company. The label argued that users can easily find copyrighted songs on file-hosting websites by doing a simple search query.

But in late March, Blue Destiny voluntarily withdrew its lawsuit. Google then asked the company to waive the right to pursue its copyright allegations. According to Google, the label refused, preserving its option to re-file its claims.

Now Google has decided that it wants the court battle. The company has filed this 96-page complaint with the California district court, asking for a declaratory judgment that it's not infringing Blue Destiny's copyrights.

Google is showing a bit of hubris in its latest move. By going on offense, Google gets to do battle with a much smaller company in the inevitable fight over whether search engines facilitate copyright infringement. Plus, Google gets a more favorable jurisdiction than a Florida court. The Ninth Circuit has been friendly to Google in similar litigation with Perfect 10, an adult entertainment publisher who tried to punish search engines for indexing copyrighted photos.

The decision in the forthcoming Blue Destiny trial — if it gets there — could mean a lot to both copyright owners and Google. If Google can win this case and get favorable treatment on appeal, it could go a long way toward clearing a big chunk of its potential copyright liability.

Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this post said Google sued Rapidshare. Editor's error.