The computer file-sharing service Aimster wanted its legal cases consolidated to its Albany hometown. Its corporate opponents wanted the cases in either Manhattan or California.

But a panel of federal judges on Friday ordered the numerous lawsuits involving Aimster consolidated for pretrial proceedings to Chicago.

"We are of the view that the Northern District of Illinois is a convenient, central forum," the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled. "Moreover, we are assigning this litigation to a judge who is highly experienced in complex litigation and whose caseload burden is favorable to accepting this assignment."

That judge is Marvin E. Aspen, the chief judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

The Aimster proceedings began in the spring, when the company filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Albany seeking legal determination that its business does not violate copyright laws.

Record and movie companies followed with their own suits in other parts of the country, charging Aimster's online file-sharing service is copyright infringement.

There are now 11 Aimster-related cases in five federal districts.

The judicial panel, which is based in Washington, D.C., can decide how courts should handle cases involving the same issues that are being heard in different parts of the country.

Friday's order applies to pretrial proceedings. If any of the cases go to trial, they would be moved back to the original court.

"We're a little puzzled they chose Chicago given the fact that there are no parties or attorneys in Chicago from this case," Aimster attorney George Carpinello told The Daily Gazette. "We're glad that we've gotten a very good judge," he added.

Aimster has been asking visitors to its Web site for donations, but founder Johnny Deep has refused to say how much money has been raised.

Carpinello said having pretrial proceedings in Chicago will create extra expenses.

One of Aimster's major opponents, the Recording Industry Association of America, said it supports the judicial panel's decision even though it had argued for consolidation into the Manhattan court.

"We are obviously pleased that the cases have been consolidated in one federal court," said Matthew Oppenheim, RIAA's senior vice president for business and legal affairs. "We are looking forward to moving forward quickly with our case."

Aimster lets users exchange files via instant messages among other users on their "buddy lists." Aimster's virtual private networks are different than the Web-wide approach to file sharing that landed Napster in court, but recording industry officials have claimed both services allow for searches for copyrighted music.