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War Declared on Karaoke Pirates

LAS VEGAS (CN) - A karaoke distributor claims dozens of Las Vegas bars and nightclubs threaten to drive it out of business by hiring karaoke jockeys who "rip" its tunes without paying for them.

Slep-Tone Entertainment, of North Carolina, sued 43 bars, hotels and clubs in Federal Court, alleging trademark infringement and Lanham Act unfair competition.

Slep-Tone makes and distributes karaoke tracks under the name "Sound Choice." It claims to be "recognized as one of the leading producers of high quality karaoke accompaniment tracks. The company has invested over $18 million to re-record and replicate the authentic sound of popular music across different areas and genres of music," the complaint states.

"Slep-Tone's dedication to producing music of the highest quality and the most authentic character led to its music becoming the staple of almost every karaoke show in the country. As karaoke grew in popularity, Sound Choice became the brand that nearly every karaoke fan wanted to sing and that nearly every karaoke jockey wanted in his or her library."

Slep-Tone says it ditties are written in either CD+G format (compact disk plus graphics), or as MP3G, "in which the disk contains the music and the lyrics, which will display on a screen."

However, "In recent years, computer technology, cheap file memory devices and the Internet have made it possible for karaoke disks to be decoded and 'ripped' to a user's hard drive and easily copied and distributed between KJs [karaoke jockeys]. This technology has proven irresistible to KJs, many of whom have used this opportunity to copy one purchased disk to several different computer based systems, copy a singer's personal disks if they use them during a show, 'swap' song files among each other, download them from illegal file sharing sites and build libraries of tens of thousands of karaoke songs without paying for them."

Karaoke piracy has become "so widespread that Slep-Tone has been driven nearly out of business," the complaint states. "At its peak, the Sound Choice family of companies employed 75 individuals and produced as many as 5 karaoke disks per month. Today, the enterprise employs fewer than 10 individuals. ...

"Widespread pirating of songs has contributed to the loss of more than 60 jobs at the plaintiff's location in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as several consecutive years of operating losses, as revenues do not cover fixed costs."

Slep-Tone claims that the tens of thousands of songs that have been pirated would have cost $50,000 to $100,000 or more if acquired legitimately.

"The result is significant financial pressure on once-legitimate KJs to skirt or ignore the law and become pirates, simply to stay in business," according to the complaint.

Slep-Tone seeks $2 million per infringed trademark, seizure of all the "disks, drives or other media" belonging to defendants.

The lead defendant is Ellis Island Casino & Brewery.

Slep-Tone is represented by Donna Boris, of Beverly Hills, Calif.

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