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261 music file swappers sued; amnesty program unveiled

By Jeordan Legon

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The recording industry filed 261 lawsuits against individual Internet music file sharers. CNN's Deanna Morawski reports (September 9)
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start quoteWe hope to encourage even the worst offenders to change their behavior, and acquire the music they want through legal means.end quote
-- Cary Sherman, RIAA president

(CNN) -- The recording industry filed 261 lawsuits against individual Internet music file sharers Monday and announced an amnesty program for people who admit they illegally trade songs on the Web.

The federal lawsuits and amnesty program are the latest moves by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in its fight against illegal music file trading on the Internet, which record companies blame for a 31 percent drop in compact disc sales since mid-2000.

Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA, said civil lawsuits filed were against "major offenders" who made available an average of 1,000 copyrighted song files.

"Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation," Sherman said. "But when your product is being regularly stolen, there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action."

Program grants amnesty

Sherman also announced the Clean Slate Program that grants amnesty to users who voluntarily identify themselves, erase downloaded music files and promise not to share music on the Internet.

"We're willing to hold out our version of an olive branch," Sherman said.

The RIAA said it will not sue users who sign and have notarized a Clean Slate Program affidavit.

"For those who want to wipe the slate clean and to avoid a potential lawsuit, this is the way to go," said Mitch Bainwol, RIAA chairman and CEO. "We want to send a strong message that the illegal distribution of copyrighted works has consequences, but if individuals are willing to step forward on their own, we want to go the extra step and extend them this option."

But the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has criticized the RIAA's use of copyright subpoenas, urged file swappers to ignore the amnesty offer.

"Rather than demanding that 60 million people sharing music files turn themselves in with a so-called 'amnesty' program, the recording industry should take this opportunity to make file-sharing legal in exchange for a reasonable fee," Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Wendy Seltzer said in a statement.

The group cautioned that RIAA doesn't represent all music copyright owners and couldn't ensure that people admitting guilt through the amnesty program wouldn't be sued by others claiming copyright infringement.

"Stepping into the spotlight to admit your guilt is probably not a sensible course for most people sharing music files online, especially since the RIAA doesn't control many potential sources of lawsuits," Seltzer said.

Those targeted ineligible

The offer of amnesty will not apply to about 1,600 people RIAA already has targeted with copyright subpoenas. The decision to file those subpoenas came a few weeks after U.S. appeals court rulings mandated that an Internet provider turn over the names of subscribers believed to be illegally sharing music and movies.

Until now, the only music file-swapping lawsuits filed by RIAA were against four college students accused of making thousands of songs available on campus networks. Those cases were settled earlier this year for $12,500 to $17,000 each.

Sherman said Monday that RIAA had negotiated settlements in the range of $3,000 with a "handful" of Internet users who had learned from their Internet service providers that they were being targeted for lawsuits. The industry is also pursuing subpoenas at universities around the country seeking to identify music file traders.

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