RIAA Prepares Second Round of Lawsuits

A kinder, gentler Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has emerged in its war against music file swappers using peer-to-peer networks: it is now offering settlement agreements before actually suing. On Friday it made 204 such offers.

In September, the RIAA 261 filed civil copyright infringement suits without any prior notice to the defendants, prompting criticism from, among many, members of Congress.

RIAA President Cary Sherman said in a prepared statement the music industry trade groups takes the “concerns expressed by policy makers and others very seriously.”

He added, “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.”

All of the names for the lawsuits were obtained through more than 1,600 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) subpoenas, which allow copyright holders to issue subpoenas to Internet service providers (ISPs) demanding the name, address and telephone numbers of ISP subscribers suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted material.

Unlike usual subpoenas, DMCA subpoenas can be filed prior to any charges of infringement, are not subject to a review by a judge, and requires no notice to, or opportunity to be heard by, the alleged infringer.

In late September, the RIAA announced 64 people settled the copyright infringement suits. All were accused of illegally downloading more than 1,000 songs through P2P networks. The amount of the settlements were not disclosed by the RIAA, but an earlier settlement with the parents of a 12-year-old accused of illegally downloading music files was $2,000.

One suit against a 66-year-old Boston grandmother, accused of downloading more than 2,000 songs, was dropped when it was disclosed her only computer is a Macintosh, which is incapable of running the P2P network software she was accused of using to pilfer such songs as rapper Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug.”

Another suit is being contested on the constitutionality of DMCA subpoenas. The attorney for a New York woman known only by her online name of “NYCfashiongirl,” claims the RIAA violated state and federal laws in securing her online name and IP address through its search P2P networks looking for possible music pirates.

Additionally, the RIAA said it received 838 affidavits for its “Clean Slate” program, which offers amnesty to P2P network users who voluntarily identify themselves and pledge to stop illegally sharing music on the Internet. The amnesty program has been attacked as misleading and in California, a lawsuit has been filed claiming the program is a deceptive trade practice.

“The record companies still aren’t listening to their fans,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Wendy Seltzer. “Instead of continuing their litigation crusade, the record labels should give their customers the option to pay a reasonable fee to continue file-sharing.”

The EFF has urged the recording industry to permit music fans to use online services for acquiring the music they want, while finding a way artists can get paid for their creative efforts.

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