March 5, 2001 11:40 AM PST

File-swapping services seek refuge overseas

A 21-year-old Canadian said he plans to establish a Napster clone off the coast of Britain in an attempt to sidestep U.S. copyright laws.

Matt Goyer wrote on his Web site, Fairtunes.com, that he has conducted research into an offshore co-location "to set up an OpenNap server beyond the reach of the RIAA." He estimates the cost to be $15,000 (USD) in the first year and hopes to collect money from 1,500 "irate Napster users."

"If 1,500 people chip in...then it'd be completely possible to do it," Goyer wrote. "Fifteen-hundred irate Napster users? We're sure we could find that many once the courts shut them down early next week."

The move comes shortly after the popular music-swapping service said it would voluntarily block thousands of songs from its service in anticipation of a potential court order that could demand even stronger remedies to end the trade of copyrighted music online.

Lawyers for the music industry and Napster gathered in a courtroom in San Francisco on Friday to rehash arguments over how to police alleged copyright violations on the service. A ruling is expected any time.

Goyer, who co-founded Fairtunes.com last year to enable Napster fans to compensate artists by voluntarily sending them money, follows others who have established file-swapping businesses outside of the United States. Israeli-based iMesh offers a service almost identical to Napster in which members search through a central database of available files but connect to each other directly when downloading selected songs.

Copyright attorneys said that overseas file-swapping operations could be harder for the music industry to close down.

"The reality is the further away you get from the United States, where most of the copyrights are and where the copyright holders live, then the harder it's going to be to enforce," said Kenneth Freundlich, a partner at Schleimer & Freundlich.

Reports said that Goyer is looking to set up his music-sharing service in Sealand, an ocean platform 6 miles off the eastern shore of England. Sealand, which was an island fortress created in World War II by Britain and founded as a sovereign principality in 1967, has become a popular location for online businesses.

A company called HavenCo launched its business operations in Sealand last year in an effort to provide an off-shore facility for individuals or companies that wish to conduct their online businesses in a secure environment. According to HavenCo, Sealand has no laws governing data traffic, and its operation in Sealand offers "a haven" from legislation such as the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Britain's Regulation of Investigatory Powers.

"The whole purpose of Sealand was to set up a place where no other laws govern," Freudlich said. "I presume that Sealand would want to have nothing to do with a court in the United States that said Napster Sealand is illegal."

 

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