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Illegal Music Downloader in Super Bowl Ad

Downloading music online from rogue file-sharing networks got 14-year-old Annie Leith sued for thousands of dollars. Now it has landed her a leading spot on a national ad that will debut during the Super Bowl.

Leith and her 17-year-old sister downloaded 960 songs over a three-year period using the popular Kazaa program. But the free music binge got Leith ensnared in the legal dragnet cast by the Recording Industry Association of America in September.

“We didn’t know it was illegal,” the New York City high school freshman said Friday.

The lawsuit was ultimately settled for $3,000. But Leith couldn’t pass up a chance to appear in a nationally televised commercial that put a twist on her costly experience.

The ad promotes a digital music giveaway offer from Pepsi-Cola and Apple Computer Co.’s iTunes Music Store. Beginning Feb. 1, 100 million bottle caps on a variety of Pepsi soft drinks will include a code for a free song download on iTunes.

In the ad, Leith proudly says she was among hundreds of music fans sued for downloading songs without paying for them, then vows to continue doing so – on iTunes.

In the background, Green Day’s version of “I Fought The Law (And The Law Won),” can be heard. Her sister and 14 other teens whom Pepsi identifies as recipients of copyright lawsuits for illegally downloading songs appear in the ad with Leith.

The RIAA applauded the ad, even though it may serve to remind some of the trade group’s legal campaign, which many music fans thought went too far.

“This ad shows how everything has changed,” said RIAA chief executive Mitch Bainwol. “The debate is not digital versus plastic, it’s legitimate versus illegitimate.”

The music industry blames a slump in overall music sales largely on file-sharing. In recent years, music and film companies have sued the firms behind the software used to swap files over the Internet. The music industry turned to suing individual downloaders last fall.

The Pepsi-iTunes campaign is the latest example of a marketing strategy that industry insiders hope will drive music fans away from the unlicensed online file-sharing networks and toward the bevy of emerging for-pay digital music services.

“I would like to see more of this,” said Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, part of Universal Music Group. “We’re starting to see technology companies come on our side, now soft drink companies are coming on our side.”

This week, Coca-Cola announced a deal with digital music service Musicmatch to promote its Sprite brand. Heineken USA recently revealed plans for its own digital song giveaway in 12-packs of beer through RealNetworks Inc.

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