EAGAN, Minn., June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- A majority of Americans say the
music industry should not sue people who illegally download music off the
Internet, according to a new poll by the legal Web site FindLaw
( http://www.findlaw.com ). Still, legal experts say the industry's suits have
legal merit and urge consumers to be aware of copyright laws and their legal
rights before downloading from any Web site.
The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major
recording companies, filed copyright infringement suits last week against 482
people in St. Louis, Denver, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., who allegedly
downloaded music illegally from the Internet. Since last September, more than
3,400 people have been sued by the recording industry for damages of up to
half a million dollars each. At least 600 of those cases have been settled for
approximately $3,000 each. None of the cases has yet gone to trial.
According to the national survey by FindLaw, 56 percent of American adults
oppose the lawsuits. Thirty-seven percent support the industry's legal
actions. Seven percent of those surveyed had no opinion. One thousand adults
were surveyed, with results accurate plus or minus three percent.
"Although the RIAA's lawsuits are unsettling to many, they are based upon
sound law because it is a clear violation of copyright law to make a verbatim
copy of a protected sound recording," says Prof. Sharon Sandeen, who teaches
intellectual property law at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul,
Minn. "The underlying public policy at work is the notion that without
copyright laws, musical artists would be less inclined to create music and, as
a result, there would be fewer sound recordings. So the individuals who
complain about the lawsuits should ask themselves: 'Would I rather live in a
world with freely distributed but less music, or pay for the music I enjoy so
that there will be more of it?'"
"I suspect that many people, when educated about the purpose of copyright
law, support the law," Sandeen continued. "Public opposition to the lawsuits
may be due, in part, to what some people consider hard-handed tactics by the
The survey found that opposition to music industry lawsuits was much
higher among younger people. Nearly two-thirds of those between the ages of
18 and 34 said the music industry should not sue people who illegally download
music. Many of the people who have been sued are college or high school
students and their parents. The RIAA has been pressuring colleges and
universities to limit students' ability to download large files through campus
computer networks. Opposition to the lawsuits was also higher among people
with lower incomes.
Legal actions to combat illegal music downloading may increase. Senator
Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently introduced
legislation that would allow artists to sue the makers of file-sharing
software used to illegally download music.
"In the end, there is no such thing as cost-free music downloading," says
Professor Marci Hamilton at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of
Law. "The freewheeling early years of the Internet led adults and teenagers
alike to believe that whatever came across their computer screen could be and
ought to be downloaded cost-free. In many ways, downloading is like
shoplifting: an exciting and slightly risky diversion, a seemingly petty vice
in an otherwise law-abiding life. But like shoplifting, illegal music
downloading violates the law and exacts a cost on society."
Consumers concerned about their rights can find the latest music industry
lawsuits, copyright laws, analysis by legal experts and a searchable directory
on lawyers specializing in the Internet and copyright law at a special section
of FindLaw, the leading legal Web site, at: