Pol probes RIAA tactics

Senator sore over subpoenas served

WASHINGTON — The Recording Industry Assn. of America is cracking down on online music pirates, but one senator is investigating whether its legal tactics have gone too far.

In late June the RIAA decided to get tough and take music file-sharers to court. So far the trade org has issued more than 1,000 subpoenas.

In the last few weeks the RIAA’s aggressive legal action has grabbed the attention of Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who promptly launched an investigation.

Coleman argues that the RIAA has inadvertently targeted unwary consumers and has created a paperwork nightmare for U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia clerks who issue the subpoenas.

Coleman contends that the RIAA subpoenas have “snared” unsuspecting grandparents whose grandchildren have used their personal computers, individuals whose roommates have shared their computers as well as colleges and universities across the country who make their computer systems available to students.

He referred to one grandfather from Fresno who, he said, is facing $45 million in penalties for downloading his “oldie favorites.”

In late July Coleman, who sits on the Senate’s investigations subcommittee, asked the RIAA to share the subpoenas with him and demanded answers to a series of questions about the process the org uses to determine which individuals to target.

Late last week, the RIAA delivered 1,075 subpoenas to the senator as well as a detailed 11-page response to his questions.

Coleman told its execs he plans to hold hearings to further investigate the matter.

He also appeared to temper his argument, recognizing that the recording industry has “legitimate concerns” about copyright infringement and suggesting that he and the RIAA could work together to balance the rights of the music biz and the consumer.

“The industry has every moral right to develop practical remedies for protecting it rights,” he wrote after receiving the RIAA’s response. “I believe the issue is one of proportionality. The punishment must fit the crime.”

So far, the RIAA has readily complied with the senator’s inquiry.

While the org would not release the 11-page response sent to the senator, a spokeswoman said Friday that the association welcomes the opportunity to participate in hearings.

But the investigation is unlikely to wrap up quickly.

Coleman plans to look into whether “nominal file-sharing” should be considered a crime, as well as the way peer-to-peer networks operate.

In recent months Congress has held several hearings exploring some of the problems associated with these file-swapping sites.

Members of the recording industry, as well as the FBI and several consumer rights groups, have testified that when users download their favorite music, they are opening the content of their personal computers to other file-swappers and exposing themselves to identity theft.

“As the senator emphasized, rampant copyright theft on peer-to-peer networks is obviously not the only issue that should concern parents,” the RIAA spokeswoman added. “The easy availability of illicit pornography, along with numerous privacy and security risks on these networks, is well documented, so it makes sense for the subcommittee to explore these issues as well.”

Coleman cited research showing that 41% of people who use these peer-to-peer sites are between the ages of 12 and 18 and asked if enough had been done to educate parents that their children were downloading music illegally and exposing personal information to other users.