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Music Group Won't Sue Small Downloaders

The Recording Industry Association of America says it will not go after small violators when it sues people who illegally share songs on the Internet.

The assurance came in a written response to questions by Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Coleman plans to hold hearings on the RIAA’s campaign, which he has labeled “excessive.”

“RIAA is in no way targeting ‘de minimis’ users,” wrote Cary Sherman, the group’s president, in a letter the subcommittee released Monday. “RIAA is gathering evidence and preparing lawsuits only against individual computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music.”

Sherman added that his group “does not condone any illegal copying and does not want anyone to think that even a little illegal activity is acceptable.”

Sherman did not specify how much illegal distribution constituted “a substantial amount,” and an RIAA spokesman declined to quantify the phrase.

Coleman, a Minnesota Republican and former ’60s rock roadie, says he fears that legal penalties for downloading songs don’t fit the crime. Copyright laws allow for damages of $750 to $150,000 for each song. The RIAA announced plans in June to file several hundred lawsuits against people suspected of illegally sharing songs on the Internet.

The RIAA said that while it has not yet filed lawsuits in its current campaign, “we assure you that we will approach these suits in a fair and equitable manner.”

Sherman said that in cases it brought last year against college students who were illegally distributing tens of thousands of songs, the RIAA settled cases for $12,500 to $17,000 each.

In a telephone interview Monday, Coleman said the RIAA has been cooperative but that he remains concerned the industry is “overreaching.”

Coleman is a former prosecutor who has used the Web site Napster to download music.

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