IT MAY BE TIME FOR MUSIC fans to start getting only what they pay for. The music industry this month filed 261 lawsuits against online music pirates.
"When your product is being regularly stolen, there comes a time when you have to take appropriate action," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America. The industry blames illicit downloaders with software like Kazaa, eMule, and Morpheus for a 31 percent decline in compact disc music sales since 2000.
Courts can award damages of $750 to $150,000 for each stolen song, but few of these cases are likely to go to trial. Four previous suits were settled for between $12,500 and $17,000. Several other people negotiated $3,000 settlements to avoid being sued.
(The RIAA also announced a plan for remorseful downloaders to make amends. Under a new amnesty program, people must admit they illegally traded songs, destroy their ill-gotten MP3s, and never swap music again.)
The industry employed some controversial methods to find those high-traffic song swappers, including use of a library of digital fingerprints that track mp3s traveling around the Net. The industry also subpoenaed ISPs, demanding the identities of individual users, raising heated protests about privacy and concerns that innocent people may be investigated without cause.