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THE LABELS STRIKE BACK

N.Y. Girl Settles RIAA Case

September 10, 2003|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Consider it a schoolgirl crushed.

Twelve-year-old Brianna Lahara was one of the 261 people sued Monday by the record industry for allegedly pirating songs over the Internet.

The seventh-grade honor student was also the first to settle with the record labels, which agreed Tuesday to drop their case against her in exchange for $2,000 and an apology.

"I am sorry for what I have done," Lahara said in a statement issued by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the labels. "I love music and don't want to hurt the artists I love."

Lahara's predicament landed on the front pages of New York's two leading tabloids Tuesday and lured an encampment of reporters to the Manhattan apartment where she lives with her mother and 9-year-old brother.

When she learned she was being sued for downloading songs such as "If You're Happy and You Know It" and the theme to the television show "Family Matters," she told the New York Daily News that her "stomach is all in knots."

She may feel better now that she dodged a bullet that could have cost her family far more, given that the penalty could have reached $150,000 for each of the 1,000 songs she had on her computer.

But Brianna probably isn't the only one who is relieved.

"The RIAA definitely wanted to get her out of the headlines," said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media, a market research firm in Tampa, Fla. "They don't want to be seen picking on children. She's not even a teenager."

The RIAA declined to comment on Brianna's case, but President Mitch Bainwol said the goal of the lawsuits was "to send a strong message that ... illegal distribution of copyrighted music has consequences."

Analysts say the industry's tactics may backfire if more defendants like Lahara emerge.

"If you go after too many 12-year-old girls, you can alienate a lot of people," said Mike McGuire, an analyst with GartnerG2 in San Jose.

The $2,000 settlement would mean more than a few months' allowance for most 12-year-olds. It also could be a strain on Brianna's single mother, Sylvia Torres, who, according to New York news reports, is a director of a nursing agency who lives in public housing.

"For a single parent living in the projects, that's a lot of money," Leigh said.

But for a top record executive, "What's $2,000?" he said. "A suit of clothes? A couple days' vacation? A fancy dinner?"

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