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Lawmaker seeks info on RIAA dragnet

The recording industry's wave of subpoenas that target individual file-swappers draws the critical attention of the chair of the Senate's investigations subcommittee.

The recording industry's wave of subpoenas that target individual computer users has drawn the critical attention of at least one influential lawmaker on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sent a letter to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on Thursday that criticized its recent spate of subpoenas and asked for detailed information on how the process is working. Coleman said the RIAA may be going too far.

"The industry has legitimate concerns about copyright infringement," Coleman said in a statement. "Yet, the industry seems to have adopted a 'shotgun' approach that could potentially cause injury and harm to innocent people who may have simply been victims of circumstance, or possessing a lack of knowledge of the rules related to digital sharing of files."

The RIAA is in the midst of an unprecedented legal campaign ultimately aimed at filing what could be thousands of copyright-infringement lawsuits against individual file-swappers who are accused of offering copyrighted songs over networks such as Kazaa. The group is sending out close to 300 subpoenas a week to Internet service providers and colleges in pursuit of the identities of file-swappers, according to the federal court in Washington, D.C., that is serving as a clearinghouse for the requests.

Several universities, along with telecommunications giant SBC Communications, are contesting the subpoenas, largely on procedural grounds. However, the RIAA is expected to file lawsuits against individuals as planned beginning as early as mid-August.

In his letter, Coleman asked for several key pieces of information, including copies of all subpoenas issued, descriptions of the process that's used to obtain the subpoenas and the information used to justify them, and descriptions of any ways the RIAA was protecting the privacy of the individuals involved.

"Clearly, I do not condone illegal activity, however I am confident that there may be a more circumspect and narrowly tailored method that the RIAA could utilize to prevent substantial illegal file sharing," Coleman said. "As a former prosecutor, I know first hand the power of a subpoena, and I am concerned about the potential for abuse in the current system."

The RIAA, which recently hired a former Republican staffer as chief executive in an attempt to strengthen ties with Congress and the White House, said it would comply with the Senator's request.

"We will be pleased to respond to the Senator's request for information," the group said in a statement. "It will confirm that our actions are entirely consistent with the law as enacted by the U.S. Congress and interpreted by the courts."