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File share programmer sued by record companies

Record companies went to court yesterday claiming €13 million from a Spaniard they claim profited from computer programs he designed to allow free music downloads from the internet.

The Promusicae association of Spanish record firms and branches of international companies Emi, Sony, Universal and Warner are suing Pablo Soto for what they allege is unfair competition.

Soto, 30, designed three popular file-sharing programs for internet users to download music for free. He admits he earned a living from the programs but denies committing any offense.

Spanish courts have repeatedly ruled that free music downloading is not illegal if it is not for commercial use.

This stance has infuriated the music business which claims it is being cheated of rightful earnings. The industry says Spain is among the worst offenders for what it says is internet piracy.

Soto says business groups are now trying to target program designers after several failed cases against people who downloaded music for personal use.

His supporters argue that people in Spain already cover the alleged losses made by music companies and artists by paying a special tax on CDs, pen drives and mobile phones.

Spain's Culture Ministry said talks are being held with all parties with the aim of drawing up new legislation to try to end disputes but there was no immediate prospect of a bill.

The case was to be heard at a court again on Thursday.

A spokesman for Madrid's Superior Court which oversees the tribunal said a ruling was expected within a month. News reports say the case could drag on for years with appeals.

The spokesman was speaking on condition anonymity in keeping with court regulations.