col Subpoenas target music 'pirates'

Downloading songs from Internet illegal, companies say

The promised crackdown on computer users who illegally share songs over the Internet has begun. This must be a surprise to those who thought the Recording Industry Association of America could never follow through on its threats to seek charges against people involved in Internet piracy.

The RIAA, the music industry's trade group, last week issued subpoenas to gather information on nearly 900 downloaders and is requesting an additional 75 subpoenas per day. The RIAA is threatening to file suits against the biggest alleged offenders.

The RIAA is monitoring who downloads what from file-sharing sites. It's part of an effort to eliminate a practice the record companies say costs them millions of dollars in revenue, robs artists of payment for their work, and is both illegal and immoral. Sales of CDs were down 8.1 percent the first half of 2003 when compared with 2002, according to Billboard magazine.

Defenders of file-sharing maintain swapping music on the Internet is no different from exchanging songs via cassette tapes.


Obviously, with millions of Americans downloading music from the Internet, the RIAA will have to issue more than 1,000 subpoenas to stop the practice. But RIAA representatives said they see their actions as a deterrent, rather than an attempt to directly recoup financial losses.

As the first few hundred subpoenas were issued, news reports told of computer users who decided to remove music files from their hard drives and disable sharing software.

On the other hand, in the never-ending game of hide-and-seek, some computer users are already trying out new software that promises to protect online identities from the RIAA.

File sharing of copyrighted material is illegal. However, the RIAA should tread carefully in seeking redress in the courts. The organization, for example, has said it will seek damages from parents whose children used the family computer to share songs. There is little to gain by taking to court a mom and pop whose daughter downloaded a few of this month's hit songs to the family computer. It's the serious offenders, those with thousands of songs on their computer hard drives, who should be the RIAA's first targets.

It is equally important for the recording industry to offer an alternative to illegal file sharing. If the industry could agree on an easy-to-use format for offering music files over the Internet at an attractive price (the two most popular pay services offer downloads at less than $1 per song) illegal downloading would become less tempting.

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