The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) - UK's music industry body - is suing download site AllofMP3.com in the UK. Yesterday, the High Court said that the website will hear the case despite being based in Russia.

BPI hopes to prove that the website is illegal and says AllofMP3 is selling music to UK customers without the permission of copyright owners. That the court accepted the case means it is convinced that the case is at least arguable, said Larry Cohen, a partner with the law firm McDermott, Will and Emery.

AllofMP3.com sells high-quality music downloads at prices far below the current charges. The site's terms of use section says it is authorised to sell the music through licensing agreements with the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society and the Rightholders Federation for Collective Copyright Management of Works Used Interactively.

But in statements made to the UK House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport in early June, the BPI said neither artists nor record companies are receiving payment from AllofMP3 for the sale of their recordings.

At the time, BPI also said it would sue AllofMP3 in the UK courts but not take action against users of the website.

The suit reflects the borderless nature of the Internet and the difficulties that individual governments have in enforcing local laws against companies that conduct business online.

Even if the UK court rules against AllofMP3, it will have difficulty forcing the site to pay damages or shut down because it is based in Russia and so beyond the UK courts' jurisdiction.

The BPI and similar groups across Europe and the world may hope that their combined legal action might encourage Russian authorities to take action against the site. "Russia wants to become part of the WTO [World Trade Organisation]. If Russia allows this [site to continue operating], it becomes difficult for the West to admit them," Cohen noted.

The UK isn't alone in its legal activity against AllofMP3.com. Several other lawsuits against the site are under way, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a group that fights music piracy on behalf of the music industry worldwide.

A German court has issued a preliminary injunction against the site and authorities in Italy have launched a criminal investigation into the local portal, AllofMP3.it. Two other criminal proceedings in Russia are also under way.

BPI and IFPI are among record industry groups around the world that have launched attacks against illegal music sharing in an effort to protect revenues for record companies and artists.