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The Recording Industry Association of America said on Monday it has reached out-of-court settlements with 52 people who were sued for sharing online music illegally and 12 others who were targeted for possible legal action.
The announcement was among a flurry of developments over online file sharing. A U.S. Senate subcommittee will begin a hearing today on the recording industry's decision to employ U.S. copyright law to sue individuals who use online file-sharing programs like Kazaa.
Meanwhile, a new survey indicated that Kazaa usage has dropped 41 percent since June. Finally, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge to protect the identity of a Boston College student being probed by the RIAA.
An estimated 60 million Americans have used programs like Kazaa to download music for free, a practice that the RIAA contends has helped drastically undercut CD sales, by 31 percent, in the last three years.
The RIAA, the Washington, D.C., trade group that represents the world's biggest record labels, said it has reached settlements with 52 of the 261 people the group sued on Sept. 8 for illegally offering an average of 1,000 songs each for others to download via the Internet.
The RIAA has dismissed one suit against a Massachusetts grandmother who claimed she was wrongly accused, although the trade group left open the possibility of refiling.
In addition, the RIAA said it had reached settlements with 12 people who had not yet been sued but were under an RIAA investigation for offering "significant amounts of music files.'' The RIAA had obtained the names of those individuals by issuing subpoenas to their Internet service providers.
Terms of the settlements and the names of the defendants were not disclosed, although the RIAA has received $2,000 to $17,000 in past copyright infringement settlements.
According to a copy of a proposed agreement released by the RIAA, defendants must agree to "not make any public statements that are inconsistent'' with the terms of the settlement. They also must destroy any files and burned CDs made with illegally downloaded songs.
The RIAA said an additional 861 people had signed affidavits in which they voluntarily admitted they were illegal file sharers and promised to stop. The signings are part of a RIAA amnesty program called "Clean Slate.'' However,
such critics as San Francisco's digital civil rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation contend that the program is what it calls a "trick'' that offers no protection against suits by individual record labels.
Cindy Cohn, the organization's legal director, said the RIAA was using settlements against a small handful of people to "terrorize" millions of other file sharers. "I just know I wouldn't crow about taking the life savings of single mothers and college students and grandparents,'' she said. "Is that really the answer?''
Today in Washington, a U.S. Senate subcommittee will convene a hearing questioning the RIAA's lawsuit strategy. The Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., will hear from three panels of speakers, including new RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol and rap star LL Cool J.
In other related developments:
The ACLU asked a federal judge in Boston to quash a subpoena the RIAA filed with Boston College seeking the name of an alleged file-sharing senior identified in court documents as "Jane Doe.''
"If the recording industry can uncover your identity simply by claiming that a copyright violation has occurred, then the Chinese government can use the same tool to find out the name of a dissident, and a batterer can use it to find out the address of a domestic violence shelter,'' ACLU attorney Christopher Hansen said in a news release.
Usage of Kazaa, the Internet's most popular file-sharing program, has dropped 41 percent since June 29, the day the RIAA began gathering evidence to sue file sharers, according to online research firm Nielsen/NetRatings. Moreover, Kazaa traffic has dropped from a high of 9 million users per week in March to 3.9 million users during the week ending Sept. 21, Nielsen/NetRatings said.
A Web site started by supporters of smaller independent record labels, www.downhillbattle.org, launched a drive to raise money to help defray the legal expenses of people sued by the RIAA.
"Lawsuits against families that cannot defend themselves are an unacceptable tactic,'' the Web site's co-founder Holmes Wilson said in a interview.