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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Target of U.S. Ire Quietly Goes Offline

If Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin tire of squabbling about Kosovo and missile defense, there is one thing they can turn to without heated words: AllofMP3.com.

The embattled online music store appears to have quietly lost its battle for survival just in time for Putin's two-day visit to Kennebunkport, Maine.

The web site has long been a thorn in relations, and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab sharply warned last fall that it had to be closed before Russia could join the World Trade Organization.

Early last month, most online music stores registered by MediaServices, the owner of AllofMP3.com, became inaccessible to their millions of clients. AllofMP3.com itself would not load Sunday, while visitors to AllofMP3.ru, a mirror site, were greeted with a no-entry sign and a note saying, "We are sorry but the server is closed for maintenance."

Irina Zubareva, head of Interior Ministry's computer crimes division "K," which began investigating AllofMP3.com in 2005, refused to say whether the closures were part of a concerted government effort against online music piracy.

A senior music industry official confirmed, however, that prosecutors were clamping down on MediaServices. The official, Vadim Botnaryuk, general director of the Russian Phonographic Association, said he had been summoned to give evidence about AllofMP3.com and the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society, a company known as ROMS that says it collects and distributes royalties for online use of copyrighted music. ROMS claims that under Russian copyright law it does not need permission from copyright holders to license the sale of music online.

"[Prosecutors] asked me to advise them on AllofMP3.com and ROMS and what both companies do," Botnaryuk said. "The fact is that property rights is a delicate area and not many people know much about it."

He said he told prosecutors that MediaServices in collusion with ROMS had been convincingly interpreting the law to suit its circumstances.

But "Russian law clearly states that one can only download music files from the Internet with the permission of a rights holder," he said. "This means that ROMS can only authorize the downloading of music files of those rights holders with which it has legally binding agreements."

MediaServices, which has been offering music at a fraction of the price charged by other online services such as iTunes, insisted Friday that its actions were within the law. Vadim Mamotin, director general of MediaServices, said the company was never a pirate web site. "It is just not true," he said. "We are working within the framework of the Russian law by paying royalties to ROMS."

Under the licensing agreement, MediaServices pays a percentage of each download fee to ROMS, which in turn pays rights holders. Western labels say, however, that ROMS has not been authorized to represent them.

"Western media and lobbyists are waging an unfair war against AllofMP3," ROMS chief Oleg Nezus said. "They are trying to hike payments for online music, while in Russia, we have a different income level."

Nezus blamed problems logging onto MediaServices' web sites on Visa and MasterCard, which stopped accepting credit card transactions from the sites in January.

The credit card companies' decisions came amid growing pressure from Western labels. The labels hope to run the site out of business by eliminating the ways it can collect payments from customers.

Several criminal investigations have been initiated against the directors of MediaServices at the request of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, said the lobby group's director for Russia and the CIS, Igor Pozhitkov. "One has been completed and forwarded to a Russian court," Pozhitkov said. "Two criminal investigations are still going on and will take some time to complete."

The Kremlin had no immediate comment about AllofMP3 on Sunday. The Kremlin's main spokespeople were either in the United States for Putin's visit or in Guatemala City for Russia's bid for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

As Putin prepared to leave for the United States, he suggested that his "friendly" personal relationship with Bush should create a positive atmosphere for their talks, despite ongoing disputes over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Central Europe and a UN-drafted proposal that would effectively grant independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo.

"In politics, as in sports, there is always competition. It's important for these competitions to be conducted under certain rules and with respect for each other's interests," Putin said during a meeting Sunday with Olympic stars at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence, Interfax reported.

"I hope the dialogue with a man with whom I have good and even friendly relations will be of this nature," he said. "If that were not so, I would not have agreed to go there and would not have received an invitation."

Putin was scheduled to arrive in Maine at 11:30 p.m. Moscow time.