Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Are my downloads from Russia too cheap to be legal?

MUSICAL DILEMMA

I've bought an album for just over $1 from a Russian mp3 site. It claims to be legal. What's the catch?

As the old saying nearly goes, if it's too good to be true, you're probably breaking the law. The Russian website allofmp3.com is lauded by Robin Hood-types who bemoan the cost of downloading music from services such as iTunes. Unsurprisingly, its legality has been questioned.

On a webpage of supposedly reassuring text, allofmp3.com claims to pay a flat fee to a Russian royalty collection agency called Roms, which in return grants it the rights to sell mp3s via the net. So far, so good, but there's a question mark over whether Roms, supposedly a gatekeeper of intellectual property, can officially grant these rights.

Roms claims that, under Russian law, it doesn't have to seek permission of copyright holders before allowing allofmp3.com to sell their music - in itself rather dubious - and there is some debate in the industry as to where the money ends up.

Ant Chapman, a musician and DJ, writes: "I know of no writer or performer who has ever received a penny for sales at allofmp3.com."

Russian media distributors have long sold cheap CDs and paid low royalties to stimulate sales in a depressed economy, but this has been with copyright holders' permission, and on the understanding that copies won't be exported. However, the net makes exporting music easier than taking a CD to a neighbour's barbecue, and while these downloads may, through the absence of legislation, be quasi-legal in Russia, allofmp3.com has incurred the music industry's wrath by selling worldwide.

Russian copyright law is due to change on 1 September. This should close the loophole exploited by allofmp3.com, so it may not survive. Meanwhile, British citizens who believe that paying for a service makes it legitimate should think again: the BPI this week refused to rule out prosecuting users of the site.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question is from Emma Sowden:

"I have no knowledge of HTML, but need to get a decent-looking website up and running fairly quickly. What are my options?" Answers to this, and any new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to: cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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