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Aimster’s lawsuit against a collection of major record companies should be litigated in the Internet file-sharing service’s hometown of Albany, N.Y., a federal judge there ruled on Friday. Federal Judge Lawrence E. Kahn of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York rejected a motion by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and 17 companies to dismiss Aimster’s suit. Aimster is seeking a declaratory judgment that the service does not infringe on copyrights. The judge declined to transfer the case to the Southern District of New York, where 36 companies filed two subsequent lawsuits against Aimster. “Although there is a strong policy against litigating related claims such as these in different fora, the court will not allow defendants before it to join in the filing of a different action in a separate forum with independent parties and thus escape this court’s jurisdiction and rob a plaintiff of its choice of forum,” Kahn wrote in Abovepeer Inc. v. Recording Industry Association of America, 01-CV-0632. “[I]n light of the overwhelming weight of other factors in plaintiff’s favor and the strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff’s choice of forum … the balance of convenience mandates that the action remain before this court.” The decision will be published on Wednesday. Kahn did rule, however, that if Aimster wants to consolidate into the Albany proceeding the complaints of the 19 other companies not named in Aimster’s original suit, its motion to do so must be made in the Southern District. The case raises echoes of the recording industry’s opposition to the music file-sharing system Napster, in which a California federal judge in March ordered Napster to stop its users from exchanging copyrighted material. Unlike Napster, which used a Web-wide system of file sharing, Aimster sets up virtual private networks to share material. Through instant messages on their “buddy lists,” users can exchange files, including music, movies and software. LEGAL REMEDIES The dispute began with an April 3 cease-and-desist letter from the RIAA to BuddyUSA, then the operator of the Aimster system. The letter warned that if the alleged infringement did not stop within a week, the RIAA would be left with “little choice but to seek additional legal remedies.” After a pair of scheduled meetings between the two sides was cancelled, Aimster filed suit on May 2, seeking a declaratory judgment that its service does not violate copyrights. In response, the RIAA and many of its members, including Arista Records, Geffen Records and Polygram Records, filed two suits against Aimster in the Southern District on May 24. In deciding the appropriate venue, Judge Kahn noted that one special circumstance justifying a departure from the “first-filed” rule used in deciding which of two suits should proceed occurs when a party brings a declaratory judgment action after receiving notice of a planned lawsuit by the other party. But he found that the RIAA’s mention of “legal remedies” did not give actual notice to Aimster, since it did not explicitly mention a lawsuit, let alone a forum or date of filing. Rather, he found, Aimster brought its suit “for the very reason the Declaratory Judgment Act was created: to ‘enable a party who is challenged, threatened, or endangered … to initiate the proceedings against his tormentor and remove the cloud.’” In addition, Judge Kahn concluded that the Northern District is the appropriate site because Aimster’s home is in Albany and the majority of witnesses and evidence is likely to come from there. And he ruled that the defendants, as large and established companies, are much better equipped economically to travel than is the startup Aimster. As for the 19 companies not mentioned in Aimster’s first amended complaint, however, Kahn concluded that their suits brought in the Southern District take precedence over Aimster’s under a first-filed test. Therefore, Aimster must seek relief in the Southern District if it wants to transfer those claims to Albany.

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