Rude Awakening for File Sharers
by Michelle Delio
02:00 AM Sep. 11, 2003 PT
The tales of woe are featured on front pages of newspapers everywhere -- the unemployed woman from Chicago, the Manhattan single mother, the 71-year-old grandfather in Texas, the Yale University photography professor.
All have at least one thing in common: They have been sued for song swapping by the Recording Industry Association of America. And the vast majority insist they did nothing wrong. Some said they assumed they were downloading music legitimately because they had paid a fee to file-sharing application providers.
"My mom paid $29.95 for Kazaa and assumed she was using a legitimate service," said Marilyn Rodell, whose mother is being sued. "How was she supposed to know the difference between Kazaa and something like Pressplay where you pay $9.95 a month?"
But the Recording Industry Association of America is adamant that all of those who have been subpoenaed knew that they were committing a crime.
"For a number of years, the recording industry has been educating the public (with) broadcast and print advertisements about the illegal activity that often occurs on peer-to-peer networks," said RIAA spokeswoman Amanda Collins. "In addition, virtually every individual against whom we filed a lawsuit received an instant message as part of our educational program to let people know directly that their activity is not anonymous on these networks and there are consequences to illegal file sharing."
In April, the RIAA began contacting users logged onto song-swapping services, with an instant message warning that they could be "easily" identified and would face "legal penalties" if they continued to trade music files.
"I say the message thing is bullshit. We never got any messages from these record people, instant or otherwise," said Keith Browning, who was recently informed by his Internet service provider that his wife's identity had been requested by the RIAA.
Others who received subpoenas also said they didn't -- or didn't recall -- receiving an instant message. And many insisted they went out of their way to sign up and pay for a downloading service that they believed was legal.
Those thoughts were echoed by Vonnie Bassett from Redwood City, California, who said she assumed Kazaa was "a valid business" and was unaware that "its customers are allowed to do something illegal."
According to the RIAA, the initial 261 lawsuits targeted users who made more than 1,000 songs available for others to download, which would seem to restrict the suits to more-dedicated file swappers.
But some of the subpoenaed claim they were unaware they were swapping songs with the world.
According to Marilyn Rodell, her mother played the songs she downloaded through Windows Media Player. She didn't realize those songs resided in a folder on her computer, a folder that was open to anyone who wanted to download a song from it through Kazaa.
"My mother has been painfully law-abiding all her life, and is beyond horrified that she became a criminal simply by subscribing to a service that appeared to promise her unlimited access to music, movies and books," Rodell said.
"Kazaa has a very pretty, very professional-looking Web page. I paid them a fee and assumed it was a legitimate way to buy music," said Karyn Columbine, a Manhattan resident who insists she was "shocked and scared" when she discovered that the fee she paid to Kazaa didn't cover legal music downloads.