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MP3.com Sues Former Copyright Counsel

January 19, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Having paid more than $190 million to settle copyright-infringement claims, Vivendi Universal subsidiary MP3.com on Friday sued the Palo Alto law firm that advised it on copyright matters.

The malpractice lawsuit against Cooley Godward seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in actual and punitive damages. "To my knowledge, this is the largest legal malpractice case ever filed in California," said Allan Browne, who represents MP3.com.

Vivendi's Universal Music Group subsidiary won a $53-million judgment against MP3.com in November 2000. Vivendi bought MP3.com six months later for $372 million, a bargain-basement price compared with the company's peak market value of more than $2 billion.

The lawsuit seeks to recover some of that lost value, along with the money MP3.com has paid to record labels, music publishers and attorneys--plus punitive damages. At least five copyright-infringement lawsuits are pending against the company.

Mark Pitchford, chief operating officer for Cooley Godward, wouldn't comment on the specific allegations in the MP3.com complaint. He said the lawsuit is "at odds with our view of the facts and on the border of frivolous, and we intend to deal with it that way."

Cooley Godward specializes in legal issues for high-tech firms, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and financing.

The malpractice case centers on the My.MP3.com service that MP3.com launched in January 2000.

The free service, a form of Internet jukebox, lets users listen online to songs they owned without going through the time-consuming process of uploading each song to their online accounts.

The lawsuit contends that Cooley Godward didn't "meaningfully advise" MP3.com about the potential copyright liability, and falsely told the company that it had "strong and viable defenses."

The service drew copyright-infringement claims almost immediately from the major record companies and music publishers, and a federal judge quickly ruled that MP3.com had violated copyright law.

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