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Surprise Is a Common Reaction of Those Sued

Some say they didn't know sharing music via PC was illegal. Others claim tech ingorance.

September 09, 2003|Alex Pham, James S. Granelli and Terril Yue Jones | Times Staff Writers

Patrick Little makes his living playing guitar for commercial recordings. But when he got sued Monday by some of the world's most powerful record labels over the 1,500 unauthorized songs they found on his computer, he couldn't hide his anger.

"I'm just pretty upset," said the Daly City, Calif., musician, who blames his 15-year-old twin daughters for downloading the copyrighted songs that could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal penalties. "I told the girls they shouldn't be doing that. Now here I am. I can't afford to pay whatever they're charging. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Little was one of the 261 people across the country who discovered Monday just how serious the record labels are about online music piracy.

No single portrait emerges of those accused by the industry of illegal downloading. Some are in their teens. Some are much older. Some are technologically sophisticated. Others describe themselves as "computer challenged."

Some said they didn't realize sharing music online was against the law -- despite an aggressive anti-piracy campaign by the recording industry. And some of the people who were sued Monday said they didn't even know their computers had been set up to make thousands of songs available to online pirates.

Heather McGough, a single mother of two in Santa Clarita, figured that the music-sharing services that survived after Napster was shut down must be legal. She said she let a friend install a program for the Kazaa file-sharing network on her computer so that she could listen to music -- songs she already owned on CDs -- while she worked.

When she received a subpoena one month later, in July, from the recording industry, she said, she considered herself too "computer challenged" to erase the program and offending files herself. So she took her machine to the local PC Club store and had the program removed by professionals.

But that didn't spare the 23-year-old office manager from a lawsuit Monday.

"I'm completely shocked by the whole thing," said McGough, who said she had no idea she was doing anything illegal. "I wouldn't try to steal anything from anybody."

Like McGough, 17-year-old Ryan Tupuola of Carson thought she could avert a lawsuit by simply deleting the 1,000 songs she and her sisters had downloaded to listen to "when we were cleaning or whatever."

"We thought if we erased it, it would be done," said the high school student. Now she is unsure how her family will respond to the suit filed against her mother, Faalili Tupuola.

One unemployed San Francisco man who was hit with a lawsuit said he had used Kazaa to play music he had already owned but hadn't transferred to his computer. The man, who asked not to be identified, also sampled several peer-to-peer networks because his Internet company was considering adding music functions to its service.

He later disconnected his PC from Kazaa, he said, but it automatically restarted when his computer was rebooted. He said he had no idea the program was offering songs from his hard drive, one at a time, to other Kazaa users.

Some defendants were unaware Monday night that they had been sued.

Charles Dumond of San Mateo, Calif., said he was mostly confused. He said he had not received any notification of the suit filed against him.

"What I'm trying to understand is, what is the appropriate process to respond," he said. "We'll have to talk to appropriate people to see what to do."

But one 45-year-old handyman who said he downloaded about 1,000 pirated songs knows exactly how he will respond to his lawsuit -- by boycotting the record industry.

"I'm not going to be purchasing new artists," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "I probably own 500 CDs and 700 albums. I have all the music I want."

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Times staff writer Joseph Menn contributed to this report.

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