- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

The music industry will file new lawsuits this week against 41 persons it says have illegally shared copyrighted music files over the Internet.

It is the third wave of lawsuits since the industry began an aggressive campaign to reverse a three-year decline in compact disc sales.

“The legal actions taken by the record companies have been effective in educating the American public that illegal file sharing of copyrighted material has significant consequences,” said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, the music industry’s lobbying arm.

The industry began its legal offensive nearly three months ago by filing 261 lawsuits.

Although the number of lawsuits has declined, music industry attorneys are sending more warnings about copyright infringement.

Warning letters were sent yesterday to 90 persons. Nearly 400 people have been notified since October that they could be sued. The recording industry began issuing the warnings after Congress criticized its tactics.

“It sounds like they are ratcheting down [the number of lawsuits] a little bit, and that leads me to conclude the letters are working. I’d rather have the RIAA send letters than sue people,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit advocacy group in the District that has supported the industry’s effort to go after major file sharers but questioned its tactics.

The new approach has led to a surge in the number of people admitting to file sharing and paying fines.

The recording industry said yesterday 220 persons had settled charges.

“I think it’s a consequence of the success of the notification letters,” an RIAA spokesman said.

None of those sued in September was warned about the legal action and many learned about it from reporters.

The recording industry is targeting people accused of distributing an average of 1,000 copyrighted music files each.

Copyright law allows the industry to collect $750 to $150,000 for each song file distributed. Settlements range from $2,000 to $10,000, with a $3,000 average.

A poll released yesterday by the recording industry indicates more people agree it is illegal to make song files available to others over a computer. About 64 percent of people polled last month said file sharing is illegal, up from 37 percent in November 2002.

Peter D. Hart Research Associates conducted the poll of 802 persons for the RIAA. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Mr. Sherman said that shows the industry’s approach is working, but critics continue to question the music industry’s legal tactics.

“There are better ways to educate the public than to bring them up on charges in federal court,” said Wendy Seltzer, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco group that promotes digital rights for consumers. “It’s hard to speculate what they’re doing with these lawsuits. They’ve gotten a lot of negative attention, and I don’t think they are stopping file sharing.”

File sharing on the popular Kazaa peer-to-peer network has declined this year. Research firm Nielsen/NetRatings said 7 million people used Kazaa’s file-sharing application during the week of June 1.

During the week of Oct. 26, the most recent for which statistics were available, the number using Kazaa fell to 3.2 million.

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