Recording industry investigators said they have begun asking
suspected Internet song-swappers to settle
copyright-infringement charges before taking them to court.
The Recording Industry Association of America, which is
waging a legal campaign against Internet users who copy its
songs online, said it had contacted some 204 suspected
infringers with settlement offers this week.
The trade group has sued hundreds of suspected song-swappers
since September in an effort to discourage the rampant online
copying it believes has cut into CD sales.
Among those charged have been a 12-year-old girl and a
71-year-old grandfather, leading some lawmakers and consumer
advocates to charge that the RIAA has been overzealous in its
The RIAA said from now on it would send out warning letters
first, allowing suspects to negotiate a settlement before
being served with a lawsuit. Those who do not respond within
10 days will be sued.
"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," RIAA
President Cary Sherman said in a statement.
An RIAA official said lawsuits were being settled on a
case-by-case basis, but that lawyers would "take it into
consideration" if a suspect cooperated after receiving the
The trade group has reached settlements with 64 song-swappers
so far. Copyright law provides damages of up to $150,000 per
song, but most settlements have been for less than $5,000.
Copyright expert Gigi Sohn, who supports the industry's
efforts to go after heavy song-swappers, said the RIAA should
send out warning letters earlier in its investigative process
to allow those accused some time to respond.
"If all they're doing is moving up the inevitable by a couple
of days and say, 'By the way we're going to sue you,' that's
not satisfactory," said Sohn, who serves as president of
Public Knowledge, a nonprofit advocacy group.
RIAA members include Time Warner's ' Warner Music Group; Sony
Corp .'s Sony Music Entertainment Inc.; Vivendi Universal 's
UMG Recordings Inc.; EMI Group Plc 's EMI Music North
America; and Bertelsmann AG 's BMG Music.