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Music industry plans second round of suits

- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

The music industry plans to sue hundreds more in a second round of legal action against people who illegally share copyrighted song files over the Internet.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sent letters to 204 persons since Monday, saying they will be sued unless they settle copyright infringement charges.

In a wave of lawsuits last month, the industry group sued 261 persons.

By notifying file sharers, the RIAA is bowing to pressure from Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who criticized the industry group's tactics when it filed the initial round of lawsuits.

Many people found out from reporters they had been sued, and Mr. Coleman asked RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol during a Sept. 30 hearing to warn people before beginning another legal assault.

"We take the concerns expressed by policy-makers and others very seriously," RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a statement yesterday.

Critics of the recording industry said the group's plan to sue more file sharers came as no surprise.

"They've been saying for a while they would do this," said Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco group that promotes digital rights for consumers.

In letters mailed this week to targets of the latest antipiracy offensive, the recording industry warned people they "intend to file a lawsuit against you shortly for copyright infringement. ... The record companies take copyright infringement very seriously" and artists "all depend on the sale of recordings to earn a living."

The letter also advises people they can avoid litigation by admitting guilt and paying a settlement.

"In light of the comments we have heard, we want to go the extra mile and offer illegal file sharers an additional chance to work this out short of legal action," Mr. Sherman said.

The recording industry settled with 52 persons last month. Terms of the settlements and the names of people who decided to settle haven't been disclosed. The family of 12-year-old Brianna LaHara paid a $2,000 fine after the recording industry charged her with copyright infringement.

Many more people sued in the initial wave of 261 lawsuits are expected settle charges with the RIAA.

By letting people know lawsuits will be filed against them, the recording industry also could avoid the public relations debacle that occurred last month when a Boston grandmother mistakenly was sued. Copyright infringement charges against Sarah Ward were dismissed when she convinced the recording industry she didn't have file-sharing software on her computer.

Michael Friedman, a lawyer who heads the entertainment practice at New York law firm Jenkens and Gilchrist LLP, said it is not clear how effective the recording industry's legal tactics have been in reducing file sharing.

File sharing on the popular Kazaa peer-to-peer network fell almost 50 percent over the summer, prices for CDs have come down and consumers are migrating to legitimate online music sites such as Apple's iTunes, Mr. Friedman said.

Research firm Nielsen/NetRatings said 7 million people used Kazaa's file-sharing application during the week of June 1. The recording industry began to gather evidence about file-sharing activity on June 29. By Oct. 5, the number of people using Kazaa had fallen to 3.6 million.

The 204 persons targeted by the recording industry are being accused of distributing an average of 1,000 copyrighted music files each, according to the RIAA. Copyright law allows the industry to collect $750 to $150,000 for each song file distributed.

More lawsuits are likely even after this second wave. The recording industry has filed at least 1,633 subpoenas to gather information about suspected file sharers.

Separately, more than 900 people have avoided litigation by signing an affidavit admitting they swapped song files and promising to stop.