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9/25/2003
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The Privacy Lawyer: The Magical World Of Music Online

Now we know the music industry is going after teenagers. But employers need to be prepared, too, in case a subpoena arrives from the RIAA.

(Or How R-E-S-P-E-C-T Cost Me My Year-End Bonus
What is that song that keeps running through your head? You can remember a few words from the title, perhaps. Maybe you can also remember a line or two. No problem, zip over to lyrics.com and do a search using what you can remember. Bingo! You found it.

Now zip over to Kazaa and check it out. Luckily for you, there are several versions offered today. Set up the software, double-click on the title and, thanks to the generosity of others, you're on your way to hearing the song in real time. No charge.

Want to share the wealth? That's easy. The system's default is set to allow others to download whatever you have in your shared folder. You download from "arethafranklin07" and "RESPECT01" downloads it from you, and so on and so forth. All you need to do is click on the search application to find others who are sharing the songs you want next. The fact that you're now sharing the file will come up in the search, too.

If this doesn't come naturally, just ask your kids for help. Peer-to-peer music and media downloading accounts for a substantial portion of our kids' surfing activities. It's fast, easy, and free. And, obviously, it's not just for kids, either.

But all is not right in the magical world of P2P music and other media file sharing. The recording and music industry watchdogs are understandably reacting to large reported losses. While the numbers differ, losses as high as $14 billion in annual sales have been reported between 2000 and 2002, and several billion files are purportedly downloaded monthly. With the reported 60 million file sharers downloading music online, the recording industry attributes this lost revenue (and the high price of CDs) to the enormity of the online piracy problem. They are probably right.

Having complained about the problem for a few years without much sympathy and without any effect on the problem, the recording industry is now using strong-arm tactics to try to get the kids (and adults as well) to stop downloading music. They're suing kids and asking for the statutory damages of between $750 and $150,000 per shared song (plus attorneys' fees). So far, thousands of subpoenas have been issued and it's estimated that 76 new subpoenas are issued daily.

Litigants are lining up to either support or fight the Recording Industry Association of America's enforcement efforts. Lawyers have volunteered to handle some of the cases for those charged with piracy without charge. Defenses include claims that the person charged actually owned a copy of the CD before downloading the music online. (Experts tell us that it makes no difference whether she owned the CD or not, since she downloaded it from another source and shared it online.) In the several cases that have been settled before a lawsuit was actually brought, the accused have paid damages ranging from $2,000 to $15,000. This is a substantial reduction from the potential damages of millions or even billions of dollars if a lawsuit had been successful.

Bringing It Home
So, aside from worrying about how you're going to react when the cease-and-desist letter arrives charging your pre-teen with copyright piracy, how does this affect you and your employer? Why should you care about the online habits of copyright pirates? Let me count the ways.

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