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Monday, October 20, 2003
Net song-swappers get RIAA letter before lawsuit

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 antipiracy efforts.

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 letter.

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.

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