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LOS ANGELES-EMI Music Publishing has filed a $100 million copyright infringement lawsuit against one of the leading providers of ringtones, just three months after the U.S. register of copyrights issued a controversial administrative ruling about the licensing of ringtones. The EMI suit is the first significant copyright action taken by a music publisher against a ringtone provider. EMI Entertainment World Inc. v. Premium Wireless Services Inc., No. 07-CV-232 (S.D.N.Y.). The administrative ruling found that the royalties paid for the use of music in ringtones should be based on government licensing rates, as is the case with compact discs, rather than current market prices, which are nearly double. Lawyers said the ruling could have deteriorated an already contentious relationship between the parties, which resulted in the suit. “This is big,” said Andrew McCormick, a partner at New York-based Masur & Associates. “The parties are well known, the amount in dispute, at least as alleged, is very high. With the high-profile parties and the amount in dispute, you haven’t seen anything like this before.” In the Jan. 11 suit, New York-based EMI Music Publishing alleges that Bellevue, Wash.-based InfoSpace Inc. and its subsidiaries withheld millions of dollars in unpaid royalties owed as part of a license agreement between them. Under that agreement, InfoSpace, which provides ringtones to cellphone companies, was allowed to distribute a catalogue of EMI’s songs that could be downloaded from certain third-party Web sites. In exchange, InfoSpace paid an agreed-upon royalty rate for the songs. “Despite the large volume of business that was publicly reported by Defendants, EMI Music Publishing was receiving far less than the royalties that would be due on such a large volume of ringtones,” the suit states. When EMI attempted to audit InfoSpace’s books and records, the ringtone provider restricted access to some materials and provided incomplete documentation, the suit alleges. In addition, some of the songs InfoSpace has sold were restricted from the license agreement, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the suit said. Calls were not returned from InfoSpace’s headquarters or from EMI’s lawyer, Michael S. Elkin, a partner in the New York office of Chicago’s Winston & Strawn.

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