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Consumer Reports

Recording industry group offers amnesty to file sharers | (KRT) A recording industry trade group that has issued subpoenas for copyright violations is preparing an amnesty plan to users who promise to stop sharing music files.

But the amnesty offer will not apply to about 1,600 people who already have been targets of the subpoenas from the Recording Industry Association of America. Several students at DePaul and Loyola Universities have been targeted by the subpoenas.

Amanda Collins, a spokeswoman for the association, declined to comment about the amnesty program but said that the group is "on track" to file a wave of lawsuits next week against those who were initially issued subpoenas.

The association, which tried to identify large-scale users of peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as Kazaa and Morpheus, said in June it would file lawsuits seeking damages of up to $150,000 for each illegally copied song.

The legal threat has made an impact.

Usage of Kazaa, for instance, has fallen 22 percent since the group began the legal action, according to researchers that track the sites.

The proposed amnesty program comes days after Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, said it will cut prices on compact discs by as much as 30 percent in hopes of luring consumers back into record stores.

The music industry claims that file sharing of music has cost recording artists and record companies billions of dollars. They blame the free online swapping for a 25 percent drop in compact disc sales since 1999.

Wendy Seltzer, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is representing file-sharing companies, said the amnesty offer does not provide "much value" to users.

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"It gets users to give up their identity and an admission that they have been infringing on the copyrights of the recording industry in return for a promise they won't be sued by RIAA," she said. "But RIAA does not hold all of the copyrights. Music publishers own some of the copyrights and there are all sorts of recording artists who hold the copyrights."

Both Seltzer and Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, said they would prefer to see the recording industry develop a business model that matches what people want to do.

"I think the consumers feel screwed because they are paying almost $20 for 10 songs they don't want and two they do," said Sohn saying the development of the file-sharing programs was a "backlash" against high prices for CDs.

Apple Computer Inc. is selling individual songs for 99 cents through its iTunes Music Store, which is licensed by the recording industry. Purchasers can download the music to a computer and transfer the file to a digital music player. More than 5 million songs were downloaded in the service's first eight weeks to Apple computer users.

"ITunes gets part of the way there. But the beauty of file sharing is that users create it and users put up what they want to listen to. They could take the industry in new directions and guide the industry if it would only listen," Seltzer said.

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© 2003, Chicago Tribune Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services