Eleven record companies, including the four international majors, are suing Beijing-based Yahoo China operator Alibaba for violating copyrights.

The lawsuit, which seeks damages of 5.5 million yuan ($711,288), was filed in Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court in early January, according to IFPI Asia regional director Mayseey Leong.

She says the IFPI, which is representing the 11 companies, waited for the court's official decision this week to hear the case before going public with the labels' decision to sue Alibaba.

Yahoo China is accused of providing "deep links" to Web sites offering unauthorized content such as MP3 downloads, lyrics and ringtones.

"Yahoo China is engaged in infringing our members' rights in a major way," said IFPI chairman/John Kennedy in a statement. "We are surprised and frustrated that they should take this role in China given that [Yahoo] are our partners in other parts of the world."

Kennedy said the IFPI and Yahoo China had been close to reaching an agreement in their dispute over deep-linking. "But unfortunately they decided to walk away from those talks," he said.

The Web portal has maintained that if content is streaming or being downloaded from another site, such violations would be the responsibility of that site.

"Yahoo! China respects intellectual property rights and supports the fight against music piracy," the service said in a statement. "The courts have clearly established the principle that search engine operators are not liable for content posted on third party websites. We will continue discussions with those record companies who seek constructive partnerships with us instead of resorting to litigation tactics."

Yahoo China is owned and operated by Alibaba.com, which is 40% owned by California-based Yahoo. Tokyo-based ISP Softbank owns 30% of Alibaba, and the remaining 30% is held by Alibaba management and employees.

Meanwhile, several of the labels suing Alibaba are also planning to appeal the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court Nov. 17 ruling in favor of Being-based Web portal Baidu in a similar "deep-linking" case. EMI, however, has dropped out of the suit and has launched an advertising-supported online music streaming service with Baidu.

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