- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

From combined dispatches

The recording industry settled its first lawsuit against an individual yesterday, one day after it announced it was suing 261 persons who it says have illegally distributed at least 1,000 copyrighted music files.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said it settled with Sylvia Torres, the New York mother of a 12-year-old girl who offered more than 1,000 songs on the family’s computer through an Internet service. The suit was settled for $2,000, the RIAA said.

The association on Monday announced the lawsuits in its most aggressive action to date to stamp out online piracy.

The music industry is trying to stem more than three years of falling sales that analysts attribute to piracy and companies’ failure to spur demand. The suits followed cases against file-sharing services such as Napster, and the industry is promoting its own fee-based online services.

Mrs. Torres’s daughter, Brianna LaHara, said in a joint statement with the RIAA, “I am sorry for what I have done. I love music and I don’t want to hurt the artists I love.”

Brianna was featured on the front page of yesterday’s New York Post, and she was quoted as saying, “I got really scared. My stomach is all turning.” She lives with her brother and her mom in a city Housing Authority apartment on the Upper West Side, the Post said.

The RIAA represents the world’s major record labels, including AOL Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Music, Bertelsmann AG’s BMG Entertainment, and Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music Group.

Industry officials yesterday fielded a few calls from defendants eager to avoid paying thousands in damages.

But some observers and lawmakers began to question the tactic. Accounts emerged that some of those caught in the industry’s piracy net were young children and senior citizens — hardly the perfect poster image of a hard-core music pirate. That led some to question whether the industry might be making its problem even worse.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, alluded to whether the industry was going too far while questioning Cary Sherman, the association’s president.

“Are you headed to junior high schools to round up the usual suspects?” Mr. Durbin asked.

Mr. Sherman told him the industry is merely trying to get the message across that sharing music is illegal and that people may be caught.

“Yes, there are going to be some kids caught in this, but you’d be surprised at how many adults are engaged in this activity,” Mr. Sherman said.

The accounts of those sued bolstered the view that music fans of every ilk have taken to downloading music directly to their computers, not to mention being able to do so for free, as a preferred method of getting their music.

“The real hope here is that people will return to the record store,” said Eric Garland, chief of BigChampagne LLC, which tracks peer-to-peer Internet trends. “The biggest question is whether singling out a handful of copyright infringers will invigorate business or drive file-sharing further underground, further out of reach.”

There are signs some people have stopped file-sharing since June, when the RIAA announced its lawsuit campaign, and also have moved to other file-swapping networks perceived to be safer than the market leader, Kazaa.

Traffic on the FastTrack network, the conduit for Kazaa and Grokster users, declined over the summer and climbed again last month, as has the number of people using less popular file-sharing software like EDonkey, Mr. Garland said.

The recording industry has been battling a three-year slump in CD sales that it blames on the explosion of music file sharing that started when Napster surfaced in the late 1990s. Record companies were successful in suing Napster out of business in 2001, but have not had similar victories against more elusive and prolific successors, including Kazaa, Morpheus and Grokster.

While the music industry has begun to warm up to paid download services, such as Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes Music Store and Buy.com’s BuyMusic.com., no service has emerged as a clear alternative to the file-sharing services’ selection.

Mr. Bernoff said consumers already think so little of record companies that the lawsuits likely won’t hurt their reputation.

“The industry has been backed into a corner, and their image is so bad, the lawsuits are not going to be much of a problem,” he said.

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