Russian rights holders decry decision


MOSCOW -- The body that represents international music copyright holders said Thursday that it was confident a decision by a Moscow court to free the former owner of Europe's biggest pirate portal will soon be reversed on appeal.

Igor Pozhitkov, spokesman for the Russian office of music industry body IFPI, said a Wednesday decision by a district court in Moscow to free Denis Kvasov is "extremely disappointing" but will not deter an appeal being lodged within the next 10 days.

Kvasov, a former head of Russian company Mediaservis, which, until its closure last month ran Web site, walked free from Cheremuschkinsky court when a district court judge threw out charges against him of infringing copyright.

Kvasov, who until two years ago headed a music download Web site, was cleared of piracy charges after the judge criticized prosecutors for "extreme negligence" in collecting and presenting evidence.

The decision was a setback for the group of copyright owners, including EMI, Warner Bros. and Universal, that brought the case with the help and support of the IFPI and its Russian office.

The Web site is believed to have been responsible for as much as nearly half of all illicit music downloads on the Russian Internet and turned over an estimated $10 million-$14 million a year, with customers charged a fraction of the legal cost for downloading tracks and albums.

Mediaservis had always insisted its operation was legal and pointed to payments it made to a Russian licensing body ROMS -- Russian Society on Multimedia and Digital Networks -- that international copyright holders allege is itself an illegal scam.

Prosecutors had failed to establish that Kvasov himself "processed soundtracks" that were available for illegal download from the site, the judge said.

Pozhitkov, speaking from the IFPI, said in a Thursday interview that, "Mediaservis was in clear violation of Russian copyright laws and we expect this unfair decision will soon be reversed."

Pozhitkov compared the judge's remarks to trying to determine whether a theft was fraudulent or not.

"The decision really does not affect the illegality of and similar services that reproduce and make available music without the consent of authors, composers and record producers that created it," he added.

Two further cases involving Mediaservis are currently under investigation and further charges against others involved are pending in addition to the planned appeal in the Kvasov case, Pozhitkov added.

If found guilty, Kvasov will face a prison sentence of up to about three years and claims for damages, under an allied civil case, of around $200,000 per plaintiff -- the maximum allowed under Russian law.