The Recording Industry Association of America stepped up its battle against file swappers this week, filing lawsuits against 261 individuals for "egregious" copyright infringement.
Defendants were selected based on the number of files shared, but many were not aware their computers were distributing music in the background, including 12-year-old Brianna Lahara from New York.
Brianna, an honors student who lives with her mother Sylvia Torres in a New York City Housing Authority apartment, was identified after the RIAA collected IP addresses used by the family PC and subsequently subpoenaed her ISP.
Brianna told the New York Post she thought "it was OK to download music" because her mom had purchased Kazaa Plus for $29.95.
Kazaa is a free file-sharing network that has come under immense legal scrutiny from the RIAA and record labels. The Plus version offers ad-free searching and is available for a one-time fee.
After originally planning to fight the charges, Torres opted to protect her daughter Brianna and settle with the RIAA for $2,000. Although copyright violators can be held liable for up to $150,000 per song, the RIAA believes it will settle most of the 261 cases.
During a Senate Judiciary Hearing Tuesday, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin questioned RIAA President Cary Sherman regarding the group's recent legal tactics, according to an Associated Press report.
"Are you headed to junior high schools to round up the usual suspects?" asked Durbin.
Durwood Pickle, a 71-year-old grandfather from Richardson, Texas, is also facing the wrath of the recording industry after his teenage sons downloaded music to his PC while visiting.
Because of the methods utilized by the RIAA to locate file swappers, those contacted were not necessarily the individuals actually downloading music, simply the persons who paid for the Internet access.
But the RIAA is content with its grenade approach. "We're trying to send a strong message that you are not anonymous when you participate in peer-to-peer file sharing," said RIAA chief executive Mitch Bainwol in a statement. "Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing on their computers."
The group warns it may file lawsuits against "thousands more" by the end of the year.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an advocacy group for digital rights, strongly criticized the recording industry's recent actions.
"More lawsuits is not the answer," said EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer. "Does anyone think that suing 60 million American file-sharers is going to motivate them to buy more CDs?"
In response to such criticisms, the RIAA has started a "Clean Slate" program offering amnesty to file sharers who admit to downloading music and sign a declaration they will not do it again. However, the EFF and other experts question the validity of such a program.
"The RIAA has offered 'sham-nesty,' not amnesty, for those sharing music online," explained EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "The recording industry wants file-sharers to confess guilt, while leaving these music fans vulnerable to lawsuits from record companies and music publishers and bands like Metallica that control independent music rights."