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Recording Industry Sends Suit Warnings

The record industry’s trade group has warned 204 people suspected of illegally swapping music over the Internet that it plans to file lawsuits against them.

The Recording Industry Association of America started mailing sternly worded warnings last week. Unlike last month’s crackdown against 261 alleged song sharers, the targets are being notified before lawsuits are filed.

“In light of the comments we have heard, we want to go the extra mile and offer illegal file sharers an additional chance to work this out, short of legal action,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman.

The letters give the recipients 10 days to contact the RIAA to discuss a settlement and avoid a formal lawsuit. The RIAA declined to identify the individuals, but said they were sharing an average of more than 1,000 songs on their computers.

The advanced notice also could help the RIAA avoid embarrassment.

Last month’s targets included a 12-year-old girl and a grandmother who claimed she was falsely accused of sharing rap songs. Many of the accused learned of the lawsuits when they were called by reporters.

So far, the RIAA says it has settled 64 suits and received an average of $3,000 per settlement. It also has dropped one suit against a Boston woman whose computer could not run the peer-to-peer file-sharing program she was accused of running.

Last month’s lawsuits also drew criticism from members of Congress, including Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. A spokesman said Coleman was pleased at the new approach.

“The senator certainly thinks it’s a step in the right direction, and wishes it had happened sooner,” said Tom Steward, a Coleman spokesman.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, says the RIAA is making a mistake by not listening to music fans.

“Instead of continuing their legal crusade, the record labels should give their customers the option to pay a reasonable fee to continue file-sharing,” said Wendy Seltzer, a staff attorney for the foundation.

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