Labels: We're after big swappers

The recording industry insists it will refrain from taking legal action against small-time song swappers and will focus only on those copying "substantial" amounts of music via the Net.

The recording industry is insisting its antipiracy campaign will refrain from taking legal action against small-time song swappers and will focus only on those copying "substantial" amounts of music via the Internet.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) pledged in a letter to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that it is "in no way targeting de minimus users" in its campaign to stop the copying of songs without permission.

"RIAA is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits only against individual computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music," wrote Cary Sherman, the trade group's president.

Large Internet service providers (ISPs), consumer advocates and some lawmakers have worried that the RIAA's campaign could strip away user privacy and open the floodgates to a wave of frivolous copyright investigations.

Coleman, chairman of an investigative subcommittee, said in a statement that he was "gratified" by assurances that the industry was focusing on egregious offenders.

In its letter, the RIAA said it has sent millions of instant messages to users of peer-to-peer software that allows users to copy songs directly from each others' hard drives.

The RIAA said it had sought 1,075 subpoenas seeking information on song swapping from ISPs between the June 25 kickoff of its antipiracy campaign and Aug. 8. Copies of all of them had gone to Coleman's office.

An RIAA spokesman said the first lawsuits would probably be filed around the end of August or beginning of September.

The RIAA said its software scans public directories available to users of peer-to-peer networks who are offering to distribute copyrighted music files.

The software locates the user's Internet address and service provider. An RIAA employee then "manually" reviews the information and verifies it before seeking a subpoena.

Coleman said his analysis of the documents "clearly reaffirms the industry's legitimate concerns over the devastating economic impact of illegal file-sharing and copyright infringement."

RIAA members include AOL Time Warner's Warner Music Group, Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group, Sony Corp.'s Sony Music Entertainment, Bertelsmann BMG Entertainment, and the EMI Group.

However, another trade group that represents hundreds of ISPs said the letter raised more questions than it answered.

That group, called NetCoalition, said the RIAA should disclose exactly how its search software works and how the association's employees reach their decisions about who should be targeted in subpoenas.

"The RIAA admits that they're sort of the judge, jury and executioner here," said Markham Erickson, NetCoalition's director of federal policy.

"If we're going to trust them, we're going to need to know more information."

Story Copyright  © 2003 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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