Apple, Napster, RealNetworks among those named.

A small group of independent music publishers filed a class action lawsuit May 16 against major online music services for failing to secure licenses to sell downloads.

The copyright infringement suit, filed in federal District Court in Los Angeles, names as defendants Apple Computer, AOL Music Now, Buy.com, Microsoft, Napster, RealNetworks Digital Music of California, Record Town, Sony Connect, Virgin Entertainment Group, Wal-Mart and Yahoo!.

Euro Tec Publishing, Bruce Caplin, Prestoons Music and related companies filed the suit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. Euro Tec alleges that it owns rights to "Caribbean Blue," "Beautiful Day," "Wake Up" and "Light'n Up" recorded by Big Mountain. Prestoons claims to own rights in "Oh, I Love You So," recorded on the original soundtrack to the 1988 film "Cocktail," and "Black and White" recorded by Roseanne Cash.

Even though copyright law provides for compulsory licenses -- so that publishers cannot refuse to license previously recorded and released songs if proper procedures are followed -- the online services failed to follow those procedures, the complaint alleges. As a result, the songs had not been licensed to the online services offering the recordings for download.

Last December, indie publisher MCS Music America, the U.S. arm of the U.K. publisher, filed a suit on behalf of itself and 27 other publishers against Napster. The suit claimed that about 800 recordings of songs were not licensed for an online subscription service.

Napster reportedly claimed that the online company believed it had secured licenses through the Harry Fox Agency. MCS, which is not a member of HFA, claimed that Napster approached the publisher to license its catalog but the transaction was never completed. That case is still pending in Nashville.

Representing the music publishers are attorneys Neville Johnson, Brian Rishwain, James Ryan and Nicholas Kurtz with Johnson & Rishwain in Beverly Hills, Calif.