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Universal Media Group sued Bertelsmann AG on Monday, claiming the German media giant’s backing of the Napster song-swapping service led to copyright infringement “millions upon millions” of times. The lawsuit did not ask for a total amount but requested at least $150,000 for each copyrighted song that was shared under Napster, which was shut down by a federal judge in California in 2001. The suit complains that Bertelsmann tried to take control of Napster by sinking $85 million into it in 2000 and 2001, even after Bertelsmann’s BMG recording unit had joined a music-industry lawsuit to stop the service. By the time Napster went dark, Bertelsmann had facilitated “millions upon millions of separate acts of infringement by millions of Napster users,” said the suit, filed in Manhattan federal court. Bertelsmann spokeswoman Liz Young said the company had no immediate comment. The suit did not mention specific artists or pieces of music. Universal’s artists include Counting Crows, Shania Twain, Erykah Badu and Limp Bizkit, while Bertelsmann touts Christina Aguilera, TLC and the Dave Matthews Band. Universal warned that file-swapping services take money away from music companies and ultimately recording artists themselves, drying up the industry’s resources for finding new talent. “The ultimate result is that the public’s access to a continuing and wide variety of high-quality musical recordings is sharply curtailed,” the 16-page lawsuit warned. Universal Music Group is a unit of Vivendi Universal SA, the European media giant that includes the USA and Sci-Fi cable channels and Universal Pictures. Napster was the dorm-room brainchild of college student Shawn Fanning, who started it as a system for computer users to share music. It became wildly popular in 2000 but was attacked by the music industry as theft. Since the 2001 shutdown, other file-swapping services such as Kazaa and LimeWire have gained popularity. Last fall, software maker Roxio bought what was left of Napster’s assets for about $5 million. Last month, Universal Music and EMI sued Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, the venture capitalists who backed Napster, claiming they contributed to the copyright violations by millions of the song-swapping service’s users. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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