Major record companies have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Usenet.com, Billboard.biz has learned.

The suit claims that the usenet.com service sells access to content that includes millions of unauthorized music files and "touts its service as a haven for those seeking pirated content."

Typically, a usenet system is made up of a large number of computer servers that communicate with each other. An individual user reads and posts messages to a company's local computer server. Messages are stored on that server and then exchanged with other servers, often globally.

The complaint, filed late Friday in the federal District Court in New York, alleges that Fargo, N.D.-based usenet.com enables and encourages its customers to reproduce and distribute millions of the labels' recordings without permission.

Specifically, the complaint alleges, usenet.com loads online bulletin boards or "newsgroups" obtained from the usenet network onto its server. It then sells access to the newsgroups that it has chosen to host on its usenet.com service. The suit claims that many of the newsgroups that usenet.com chooses to offer "are explicitly dedicated to copyright infringement."

Users post copyrighted recordings to these to the newsgroups on usenet.com's servers, the suit says, identifying them by artist and title. The works are then "propagated worldwide," allowing millions of users of the usenet network to copy "with ease and anonymity," the complaint alleges.

The suit also claims that usenet.com "boasts" that "its service is the best way to get 'free' music now that 'file sharing websites are getting shut down...'"

On the usenet.com home page visited by Billboard.biz , the site states: "Shh... Quiet! We believe it's no one's business but your own what you do on the Internet or in Usenet. We don't track user activity."

The labels claim that thousands of recordings, including some not yet released, are infringed every day on the usenet.com service.

The suit claims that usenet.com has been repeatedly notified by the labels to remove infringing recordings from its servers, but it refuses to remove them and continues to carry infringing newsgroups.

The plaintiff labels are Arista Records, Atlantic Recording, BMG Music, Capitol Records, Caroline Records, Elektra Entertainment Group, Interscope Records, LaFace Records, Maverick Recording, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Virgin Records America, Warner Bros. Records and Zomba Recording.

The labels seek an unspecified amount of damages, an injunction and a declaration that the company is infringing copyrighted works.

Usenet.com could not be immediately reached for comment.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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