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Record Labels to Offer Amnesty to File Sharers, With Conditions

September 05, 2003|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

Worried that the major record labels are about to slap you or your teenager with a lawsuit?

The labels' trade association is ready to grant music downloaders amnesty -- provided they put their names, and possibly their faces, into a database.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America plans to file its first wave of copyright infringement lawsuits as early as next week against hundreds of people who share songs online. At the same time, it's expected to unveil an amnesty program for file sharers not yet targeted by suits.

To be eligible, sources said, people would have to cleanse their computers of all the tunes they downloaded without permission and destroy any CDs they burned with those songs. They'd also have to submit a notarized form to the RIAA, possibly with some official identification, pledging not to run afoul of copyright laws again.

Analyst Michael McGuire of GartnerG2, a technology research firm, said an amnesty program might appeal to parents of downloaders. But he questioned how many people would turn themselves in before they'd actually been targeted, as required by the program.

"That would just send a signal to me as a user that you're trolling for IDs," McGuire said. "That's like saying, 'Come tell us if you have any intention of becoming a revolutionary.' "

On the other hand, the widespread publicity about the RIAA's plan to sue file sharers has prompted a number of people to try to make peace with the labels before the legal papers start flying. That was a driving force behind the decision to offer amnesty, sources said.

Under the program, which was first reported by Billboard Bulletin, applying for amnesty carries a risk: Those who renege on their pledges to honor copyrights would face much more severe penalties if they were targeted in a later round of lawsuits.

Given that, the RIAA might demand a copy of a photo ID from amnesty seekers to protect people against being placed in the database fraudulently without their knowledge, a music industry source said. But McGuire said, "I'd want to know how that information is going to be protected."

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