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For a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Internet search engine company, a home-court advantage in the Silicon Valley is worth fighting for. The closely watched copyright dispute between automated search site MP3Board and the Recording Industry Association of America has attorneys on both sides maneuvering for their desired venues, as the dispute plays out in courtrooms on both coasts. On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose, Calif., postponed a decision on whether to dismiss a suit against the RIAA filed by MP3Board in California’s Northern District. MP3Board is an automated Internet search engine that links Web surfers with information and music files — or MP3s — on third-party Web sites. In 1999 and 2000, the RIAA pulled the plug on MP3Board several times by sending notifications of copyright infringement to MP3Board’s Internet service providers. RIAA threatened to sue unless the providers either cut off the search engine’s Web access or disabled thousands of links to music files. MP3Board regained Internet access in May 2000 and then directly received a warning from RIAA. This case could ultimately determine whether linking to a Web site with copyrighted material constitutes copyright infringement. A ruling against search engines could have huge ramifications on the Internet, said Ira Rothken, who is representing MP3Board in both the New York and California suits. Attorneys for RIAA, who want to quash the California case and decide the entire matter in U.S. District Court in New York, argue that allowing judges on each coast to hear the case could lead to two conflicting decisions. But MP3Board, pointing out that it filed in California first, wants the Silicon Valley suit to move forward — a move that Whyte said could mean a tactical advantage. “That’s what it really boils down to. It’s procedural maneuvering on both sides,” Whyte said Friday after hearing both sides. Whyte said he had originally planned to rule from the bench Friday on the motion to dismiss — and was, in fact, leaning toward dismissing — but decided to give it more consideration. “It seems to me in a lot of ways to be unwise to have the overall litigation split,” he said. Jeffrey Knowles, a partner with Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass who is representing RIAA, said it doesn’t make sense to try the case in California and risk courts on each coast coming up with inconsistent judgments. “This is really duplicative and wasteful,” Knowles said, pointing out that MP3Board’s counter-claims in New York are nearly identical to its case in California. “MP3Board is pulling out all of the tactical procedure stops.” But Rothken said he wants the California case kept alive, and in fact wants it to go to trial first. “Not only will it give us guidance on how to conduct our future affairs, it’s a core question that could dispose of both cases,” Rothken said. MP3Board Inc. v. Recording Industry Association of America Inc., 00-20606, was filed in San Jose in early June. Recording companies filed a copyright infringement suit in New York June 22. This fall, Whyte pared down the California suit, dismissing the record companies, but allowed MP3Board to amend its complaint and go after RIAA for sending the notifications. MP3Board is now asking for a declaratory judgment about the legality of the copy-right notifications, which they argue were vague. MP3Board is also seeking damages and an injunction barring the recording industry from demanding MP3Board pull down its site, disable links, and monitor the Internet for infringing materials. In the New York case, recording companies are suing MP3Board for copyright infringement. “It would just paralyze the Internet,” Rothken said. Whyte said he’ll issue a ruling after he’s had a chance to thoroughly study all sides of the issue.

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