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RIAA pledges not to target casual file sharers

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The Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) this week said it will not target small-scale copyright infringers, only the big boys.

The statement follows questions put to the music industry group by Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Associated Press reports.

As chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs' Permanent Sub-committee on Investigations, Coleman plans to investigate the RIAA's campaign to bring individual alleged copyright infringers to court.

Coleman has said the RIAA's plan is "excessive" - in his opinion, the crime doesn't justify the scale of the action. The RIAA is targeting individuals and demanding they cough up compensation for their alleged infringing behaviour. The money demanded could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on the US copyright law damages limit of $750 to $150,000 per track.

The RIAA's campaign began in June, but has already run foul of the Massachusetts court which recently ruled that the organisation must target alleged violators in local jurisdictions and not by centrally issuing subpoenas from Washington DC.

The RIAA told Coleman: "We will approach these suits in a fair and equitable manner" and that it was "in no way targeting 'de minimis' users".

Maybe not, but that's the impression the organisation has given. Presumably it hasn't stressed its focus on serial violators until now, when challenged by someone of suitable gravitas, because the broader impression may serve to dissuade consumers from sharing songs. Early indications, however, suggest the threat is having little or no impact.

The RIAA certainly has a right to pursue infringers on its members' behalf, but its response is entirely disproportionate. As a senior executive with one of the major label's UK operation told us t'other week, illegal online file sharing amounts to no more than a fraction of the total copyright infringement going on. The real issue, he said, is pirate CDs and DVDs from territories with no copyright laws, or law enforcement agencies unwilling to police them. "Going after file-sharing allows them to ignore the real problem," he said. ®

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