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Record labels bring piracy charges against Russia's VKontakte

By Maria Kiselyova and Anastasia Teterevleva

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Three of the world's top record companies are suing Russia's biggest social network VKontakte (VK) for facilitating copyright piracy, a London-based industry federation said on Thursday.

Music companies have long fought battles to control the dissemination of their products over the Internet and preserve the flow of royalties into their own accounts and those of the artists they represent.

Labels Sony Music Entertainment, Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group and Warner Music UK argue VK, known as Russia's answer to Facebook Inc, offers a service allowing large-scale infringement of the rights of copyright holders, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said.

"The company operates an unlicensed music service involving a huge library of copyright-infringing tracks that are stored on its website. The service provides unlimited access to this repertoire, enabling its tens of millions of users to search and stream music," IFPI said in a statement.

VK, controlled by Russian Internet group Mail.Ru, is the second largest social media network in Europe after Facebook. Its in-house spokesman could not be reached for comment and the company's external public relations adviser could also not be reached. They did not respond to emails requesting a response.

Reuters also put news of the lawsuits to Mail.Ru but a spokeswoman declined comment.

Sony Music Russia, part of Sony, Universal Music Russia and Warner Music UK have filed three separate lawsuits with the St Petersburg arbitration court, seeking orders requiring VK to remove the infringing repertoire from its website, IFPI said.

"We have repeatedly highlighted this problem over a long period of time," IFPI Chief Executive Frances Moore said. "We have encouraged VK to cease its infringements and negotiate with record companies to become a licensed service. To date the company has taken no meaningful steps to tackle the problem, so today legal proceedings are being commenced."

The lawsuits also include a 50 million rubles ($1.4 million) damage claim.

Representatives of Sony Music Russia and Universal Music Russia said they could not comment. Warner Music declined to comment.

($1 = 35.3550 Russian Rubles)

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by David Holmes)

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